Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Alan Gilbert & the NYPO at Carnegie Hall, 2/14/10

I saw three of Alan Gilbert's guest appearance with the San Francisco Symphony, over a period of several years. I liked what he did with the recent music (Ades, Chamber Symphony; Adams, Naive & Sentimental Music) and a Nielsen symphony but thought his Mozart and Beethoven okay, not great. I was, to put it mildly, a little skeptical when the New York Philharmonic appointed him music director.


I saw him with the NYPO at Carnegie Hall in February, and I am no longer a skeptic. In fact, I sent friends email immediately after the program with the subject line "Give that man a 20-year contract."

Here's what they played:

Wagner, Rienzi Overture
Magnus Lindberg
, Clarinet Concerto
Sibelius, Second Symphony

This program must have hit his exact sweet spot, because, I tell you, every note, every phrase, was absolutely RIGHT. I had no expectations about the Rienzi Overture, that overfamiliar chestnut, and it was great. Beautiful phrasing in the slow sections, with plenty of flexibility and lift, and exactly perfect tempo choices in the rest.

The Lindberg
has been recorded, and I have the recording, but this was its American premier, with the clarinetist for whom it was written, Kari Kriikku. He is an unbelievable player; I cannot believe the sounds he gets out of that instrument. The concerto's a great piece, a free fantasy in which the soloist has material that sounds like a cross between space music and Messiaen on LSD, with plenty of backbone. The clarinet has to imitate I don't know how many different birds; my companion for the evening, who knows birds better than I do, said it was easy to recognize them. Kriikku and the orchestra played the hell out of it and it got an enormous ovation from the audience, the best receptions I have ever heard for a new piece.

I'm running out of superlatives here, so I'll just say that the Sibelius was magnificent in both detail and in overall conception. Gilbert's phrasing, his control of dynamics, of the architecture of the piece, absolutely grand and great. That was some Sibelius! Putting it another way, it was better than what I heard from Esa-Pekka Salonen and LAPO two years ago.

This was also the first time I'd heard an orchestra in Carnegie Hall, and they sounded like a million dollars. Surely part of the effect was the venue itself, the sound of which has a marvelous combination of warmth and transparency, and a great ability to disperse the sound without the room being overwhelmed, but that silky and gorgeous string tone? The awesome brass? Wow.

My friend told me that they sound like a different orchestra from under Maazel. Where he hears the difference, especially, is in the soft sections, where he says it always sounded as though Maazel was pressing them down or tamping them down. Gilbert's dynamics all sound completely organic and natural and beautiful, throughout the range.


Paul Muller said...

Lisa says: "Putting it another way, it was better than what I heard from Esa-Pekka Salonen and LAPO two years ago."

Wow - high praise indeed. We thought we cornered the market on Sibelius when Esa-Pekka was here...

Lisa Hirsch said...

You betcha - I was pretty surprised!

calimac said...

I heard Nielsen's Second when Gilbert led it with the SFS two years ago, and was quite satisfied.

The absolute best Sibelius Second I've ever heard was conducted by Yasuo Shinozaki with Symphony Silicon Valley, of all orchestras. It'd have to be some performance to beat that.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I was happy with the Nielsen also - and until I dug up my blog posting about it yesterday, I didn't even remember having heard it.

Anonymous said...

NY is in for good times, This guy is good, and a people person, too. First time I heard him was when he was conducting Lyons, something went seriously wrong in Mahler 7/1 and the whole orchestra lost it. They were all so attuned to each other (a good thing) but not so good that they all got upset. Still, Gilbert pulled them back together, so the final movement "dawn after a dark night" was truly heartfelt. Try and hear Salonen in London. Is it true, Bruce that the NY audience walked out of Gilbert's Martinu ? Salonen
and the Philharmonia in London are a perfect match, fantastic results. He's in his element hanging out with Knussen, Benjamin, Lindberg and co.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Anonymous, are you looking for a response to your question from Bruce Hodges?

Lisa Hirsch said...

Anonymous, are you looking for a response to your question from Bruce Hodges?