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Hitting the perfect notes for New Year
Global Times | December 30, 2012 16:24
By Global Times
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Musicians with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra during a performance. Photo: Courtesy of P.A.D Studio
Musicians with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra during a performance. Photo: Courtesy of P.A.D Studio

In the fourth year that leading international conductors have been invited to Shanghai to lead the New Year Concert, the 2012-2013 Shanghai New Year Concert will have a distinctly American touch. The Shanghai Symphony Orchestra has invited Alan Gilbert, the Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, to preside over the special holiday event. The concert at Shanghai Grand Theatre on December 31 will offer treats including the music from Act II of Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker, Leonard Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, and George Gershwin's An American in Paris.

"I chose the program with the idea of providing our audience with a rich and joyous musical experience. All of the music is very close to my heart and if we can dance and sing throughout the evening, I will be very happy," Alan Gilbert commented.

This will mark Gilbert's first visit and concert in the city. "I'm thrilled and tremendously excited to build a relationship with the musicians and music loving public of Shanghai. I have no doubt that this collaboration will become a very important feature of all of our musical lives."

Alan Gilbert Photo: Courtesy of P.A.D Studio
Alan Gilbert Photo: Courtesy of P.A.D Studio

A New Yorker

Alan Gilbert, the Yoko Nagae Ceschina Chair, began his tenure at the New York Philharmonic in September 2009, launching what New York magazine called "a fresh future for the Philharmonic." The first native New Yorker to hold the post, he has sought to make the orchestra a point of civic pride for the city and country. "The Philharmonic is once again part of any conversation about the liveliness of the arts: a goal that Mr Gilbert announced on arrival, then wasted no time in achieving," The New York Times praised.

When taking office at the Philharmonic, Gilbert was just 42 - a lot younger than the previous two directors, Kurt Masur who took this position at 64 and Lorin Maazel who succeeded Masur at 72. In fact, he has always been closely connected to the Philharmonic. His parents were both violinists with the Philharmonic and he used to watch a lot of rehearsals and concerts.

"I do remember loving to go to concerts from an early age. I'll never forget hearing my first 'grown-up' concert. I was surprised that there was no talking to describe the music," Gilbert recalled. For his first experience conducting the orchestra, Gilbert said "it felt like I had been conducting the orchestra for a long time, even though the feelings were all new."

In the 2012-13 season, Alan Gilbert conducts world premieres, presides over a cycle of Brahms's complete symphonies and concertos, continues The Nielsen Project, the multi-year initiative to perform and record the Danish composer's six symphonies and three concertos, conducts Bach's Mass in B minor and an all-American program that includes Ives's Fourth Symphony; and leads the orchestra on its EUROPE/SPRING 2013 tour. The season concludes with June Journey: Gilbert's Playlist, four programs showcasing themes and ideas that Alan Gilbert has introduced since becoming music director, including the season finale: a theatrical reimagining of Stravinsky's Petrushka and The Fairy's Kiss in collaboration with director/designer Doug Fitch that features New York City Ballet Principal Dancer Sara Mearns.

Gilbert is Director of Conducting and Orchestral Studies at the Juilliard School. He is also the first holder of Juilliard's William Schuman Chair in Musical Studies, the Conductor Laureate of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra and Principal Guest Conductor of Hamburg's NDR Symphony Orchestra.

He regularly conducts leading orchestras around the world. He made his acclaimed Metropolitan Opera debut conducting John Adams's Doctor Atomic in 2008, the DVD and Blu-ray of which won the 2012 Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording. His earlier releases have been acclaimed by the Chicago Tribune and Gramophone magazine.

In May 2010 Gilbert received an Honorary Doctor of Music degree from the Curtis Institute of Music and in December 2011, Columbia University's Ditson Conductor's Award for his "exceptional commitment to the performance of works by American composers and to contemporary music."

A tribute to masters

After discussing with Yu Long, the Music Director of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, Gilbert finally settled on the two American pieces and another American-style work for his Shanghai concerts. Leonard Bernstein, a former Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, has been a spiritual leader for Gilbert. This time Gilbert hopes to interpret and present the music of West Side Story in his own way.

It has been a tradition for many American families to enjoy the ballet The Nutcracker over Christmas and New Year. Gilbert conducted this work in the first New Year Concert after he had been appointed music director at the Philharmonic.

Known around the world for his Rhapsody in Blue, the American composer George Gershwin pictured an American tourist taking a stroll in Paris and how he felt hearing the different sounds in the streets and experiencing the atmosphere of the French capital. Gilbert hopes that in this performance he, as well, will paint the picture of a New Yorker in Shanghai.

In November 2012, the New York Philharmonic and the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra announced a four-year partnership. This includes the establishment of an orchestral academy in Shanghai as well as annual performance residencies by the Philharmonic in Shanghai through the 2017-18 season. The two century-old orchestras are expected to see more exchanges in their conductors, musicians and works to achieve more innovations and a higher level of their art.

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