From New York to Hamburg for Conductor Alan Gilbert

Jun 23, 2017

After eight years as the music director of the New York Philharmonic, Alan Gilbert is leaving to become chief conductor of the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra.  

Interestingly, just as the New York Philharmonic's home, David Geffen Hall, is about to undergo a major renovation, Gilbert is moving into a shiny new facility in Hamburg, Germany.

In contrast to the New York Philharmonic's long history, founded in 1842, the NDR Symphony Orchestra as it is called was created just after the end of the World War II.

During it's relatively short history the orchestra has had notable conductors at the helm, including Gunther Wand for more than 20 years, John Eliot Gardiner, Herbert Blomstedt, Christoph Eschenbach, and most recently, Thomas Hengelbrok.

The new concert hall, which sits along Hamburg's harbor, was built on top of an old brick warehouse. Much has been written about it as a striking architectural achievement, both in its appearance and how the concert goers navigate the inside of the building to get to their seats in the main hall.

Whatever the politics involved in Gilbert leaving New York after just eight years as music director, this move looks like a good one for both the conductor and his new orchestra.  He'll avoid having to deal with the inconvenience of the disruptions during the renovation of the old hall in New York and instead be able to focus on the music-making in Hamburg, something he seems to have done quite well in New York.

I particularly appreciated Gilbert's dedication to Danish composer Carl Nielsen, who deserves to be more widely heard.  His recording of all the symphonies and concertos by Denmark's greatest composer (the Nielsen Project) was a welcome addition to the catalog.  

Here he is leading the Berlin Philharmonic in a little bit of Nielsen's Symphony No. 3.

Gilbert will be leaving the New York Philharmonic to begin a new phase of his career — not really very far from Denmark when you consider Hamburg's location in Northern Germany.  I'm sure there will be many fine performances of Nielsen's music, but his first outing with the Elbphilharmonie since being named chief conductor will be next April with Mahler's Third Symphony (yea, another favorite orchestral work of mine).

I think the New York Philharmonic will do just fine. They've already announced the Dutch conductor Jaap van Zweden as Gilbert's replacement, and the renovation of their hall will be fine.  I wish Gilbert well in his new job in Hamburg, but I can't help wondering their gain may be our loss.