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5 Questions for Alan Gilbert

What's on the mind of the new chief conductor of the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra shortly before he takes up his position?

From the very first note we had a direct connection, a strong sense of familiarity.

Alan Gilbert

As of the 2019/20 season, Alan Gilbert will be the new chief conductor of the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra. The NDR Opening Night on 6 September 2019 marks not only the beginning of his tenure, but also of the festival »Sounds like Gilbert«, where he explores works that he is especially fond of. Before the first of a series of six concerts, he answered our questions about the sound of the orchestra and his feelings shortly before he mounts the rostrum for the first time in his new position.

Mr Gilbert, do you remember the first time you conducted the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra?

Certainly: I actually remember it very clearly! It was in 2001, quite a long time ago in other words. From the very first note we had a direct connection, a strong sense of familiarity. Back in those days I didn't have much experience as a conductor, so I didn't know exactly what I could expect from the orchestra. To be honest, I was pretty nervous, but the chemistry was good.

Alan Gilbert
Alan Gilbert © Peter Hundert

Ten years later you were first guest conductor, and now you're returning as chief conductor. Doesn't that change everything?

It definitely makes a major difference. In the meantime, I have children, and can watch how my own parents deal with them. That's quite a good comparison: as a grandparent you look after your grandchildren now and again, and first and foremost you have a good time with them. It's not your responsibility to bring them up or to discipline them sometimes. As a guest conductor you have roughly the same job that grandparents have with their grandchildren. As chief conductor, on the other hand, I can't just take the pick of the bunch: I have to work on fundamental developments, such as questions of musical style or the orchestra's »musical health«.

As chief conductor I can't just take the pick of the bunch...

Alan Gilbert

Der Dirigent Alan Gilbert

  • 1995-1997: Assistent Conductor von Christoph von Dohnányi beim Cleveland Orchestra
  • 2000-2008: Chefdirigent der Königlichen Philharmoniker Stockholm
  • 2004-2015: Musikdirektor der Oper von Santa Fe
  • 2004-2015: Erster Gastdirigent des NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchesters
  • 2009-2017: Chefdirigent des New York Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Ab 2019: Chefdirigent des NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchesters

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What »personal sound« does the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra have? What constitutes its personality?

I find it hard to talk about sound. Sound is about colour, but also about emotions and character. But one thing I can say is that when I'm playing Brahms for example with the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra, I feel a depth of inspiration that I don't find with every orchestra.

»Tube Talk« with Alan Gilbert

Alan Gilbert

Alan Gilbert © Peter Hundert

Can we just ask one more question on the subject of sound? Your tenure in Hamburg starts with the three-week festival »Sounds like Gilbert« – so what does Gilbert actually sound like?

The festival title refers primarily to a selection of music that I like and with which I have a personal connection. Works that I really love myself. I want to explore this repertoire together with the orchestra.

Discover more about the festival: Sounds like Gilbert

You recently said in an interview that we are living in dangerous times. How do you think we should make music in such times?

The main thing is to make an artistic statement, to think about how culture can be employed for the humanitarian cause.  We need to progress, and not regress, as some politicians want to convince us. I can get quite worked up when I look around and see what's going on in the world.

Interview: Björn Woll

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