When Your Mom's Part of the Orchestra

The conductor's mother is a violinist in the New York Philharmonic, but he says her presence has assumed it's proper proportion. "I'm lucky that she's playing really, really well, and there are no issues ... because I guess technically I'm her boss."
  • Transcript


Question: Your mother is a violinist in the New York Philharmonic. What is it like to conduct her?

Alan Gilbert: My mother is a violinist, a wonderful violinist, still playing in the New York Philharmonic.  I was more aware of it... I mean, it's not that I forget about it; I’ll never be able to do that.  It's a very unique situation—a kind of fantastic, wonderful situation.  Early in the time I was conducting the orchestra, the first times with the orchestra, I certainly was more aware of the fact that my mother was sitting over to my left.  Now, frankly, there's so much to think about, there's so much to worry about, there are so many elements that I have to keep in my mind that I would say that her presence has assumed it's sort of proper proportion now.  Of course, I'm aware she's there.  I'm happy she's there.  I'm lucky that she's playing really, really well, and there are no issues as far as that goes because I guess technically I'm her boss, and if there were any sort of issues I'd be the one who would have to deal with it.  She's at the top of her game, and that keeps it simple.

Does she still give you advice?

Alan Gilbert:  Absolutely.  She's me mother, after all.  She will often... I mean, sometimes it's silly advice, like “Oh, I didn't like those clothes you wore, or whatever.”  But she says, “Here it felt a little bit pushed” or “It feels like we could use a little bit more time on this.”  This is really interesting feedback to get, and because of the hierarchy and because of the nature of the situation, conductors tend not to get a lot of feedback from the orchestra, which is probably good because it could become really messy if everybody in the orchestra felt that it was okay to give his or her advice.  And, you know, there's some boundaries that are probably worth preserving.

It's also very useful because the musicians are smart and they have a lot of perspective and experience.  Good advice is always welcome, and it happens that my mother feels comfortable saying things.  She basically leaves me to my work, but occasionally she will definitely say, “Oh, this was a little fast,” or “We need a little more help with the beat at this point.”  It's useful.

Recorded on June 18, 2010
Interviewed by David Hirschman