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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?

We missed out on something important: getting in touch with our history.

Blick Bassy

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.

Your new album »1958« is a homage to Cameroonian freedom fighter Ruben Um Nyobé, who was shot that year by French colonial troops. What motivated you to make the album?

If you look at what’s happening in our country today, you notice that we missed out on something important, namely getting in touch with our history and our values. In Cameroon and in other African countries, nations are built on foreign structures that have nothing to do with the local eco-system. These structures were imposed on us from outside. They determine our economic, educational, political and cultural models, but they have nothing to do with our own needs. It seemed an obvious idea to look for inspiration from the people who gave their life for our country’s independence.

Blick Bassy

Blick Bassy: Ngwa

Blick Bassy
Blick Bassy © Justice Mukheli

Can music expedite political change?

Um Nyobe said that everything is political, and politics affects every area of life. That’s why we vote. But what happens after the election? That doesn’t mean that our responsibility as citizens is at an end. I believe that every action, and every failure to act, is political, as both have an influence on the world we live in.

Your texts deal with serious issues such as repression and vanity, but the music itself sounds quite gentle. Isn’t that a contradiction?

Not at all: I think it’s the best way to approach these issues if you want people to hear what you’re saying. If somebody is annoyed or angry and starts to scream and shout, the other person won’t listen to him. You need to let the anger pass, then you can start a peaceful dialogue.

Blick Bassy
Blick Bassy © Justice Mukheli

If somebody starts to shout, the other person won’t listen to him.

Blick Bassy

The Conductor Alan Gilbert

  • 1995-1997: Assistent Conductor to Christoph von Dohnányi with the Cleveland Orchestra
  • 2000-2008: Chief Conductor of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra
  • 2004-2015: Music Director of the Santa Fe Opera
  • 2004-2015: First Guest Conductor of the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra
  • 2009-2017: Chief Conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra
  • From 2019: Chief Conductor of the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra

Blick Bassy: 1958

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You sing mainly in Bassa, one of Cameroon’s countless languages. What prompted your choice of language?

The Cameroonians’ native languages continue to be stigmatised in comparison with the colonial languages English and French; they are regarded as dialects and pushed right to the back of the cupboard together with all the traditions that belong to them. I believe it’s important to take our native languages as a starting point for the rebuilding of our continent.

»Tube Talk« with Alan Gilbert

Interview: Anastasia Pässler (Stand: 24.03.2020)

Alan Gilbert

Alan Gilbert © Peter Hundert

You lived in Paris and then moved to a little village near Calais. Can I ask why?

Well, I’m a man of the country. I need to be in touch with nature, to observe it and listen to it in order to relax and be creative. That’s why I left Paris. First I lived in a little village in the north, now I’m in the south-west, in another village. When I retire, I can see myself returning to Cameroon, to Mintaba, the village where I grew up. I plan to create a new little world there, a world as I imagine it, where Man and every other living creature live together as equals.

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

This is an excerpt from an article of the Elbphilharmonie Magazin 03/2019 (German only)

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