Thursday, 14 January 2010

A Few Words with ALAN GILBERT

Music Director, New York Philharmonic Orchestra

This interview took place in October 2009, when the NYPO visited Singapore, and was used for an article in the January 2010 issue of Singapore Airlines inflight magazine Silver Kris.

The Japanese-American conductor Alan Gilbert has just begun his tenure as the Music Director of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in its 2009/10 season. The first American-born maestro since Leonard Bernstein to head the prestigious orchestra, he is also the first native New Yorker. After completing its Asian tour in October, the NYPO heads to Europe in January-February 2010.

What was it like growing up in New York City?

Many people think it strange living in the Big Apple, but I loved it. I was a true New York kid. It has so much to offer in terms of cultural diversity and wealth of possibilities, like going to museums and concerts. I have lived in many cities, but miss its incredible range, and there is no place quite like it.
NYPO family: Alan Gilbert with his parents
Michael Gilbert and Yoko Takebe.

Best kept secrets? It isn’t true that New York is all expensive. You can get cheap tickets on the day of events, attend free concerts in Central Park and visit museums on their free days. I love the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) – it is always reinventing itself to present art in new ways – and the Frick Collection, which is small but exquisite, and will always have a fond place in my heart. I never thought we’d come to this, but Fairway (the 24-hour grocery store) on Broadway and 74th Street has a great organic food department on its second floor!

New Yorker Alan Gilbert has never visited the Statue of Liberty!

The NYPO has recently performed in North Korea and Vietnam, and there are plans afoot for Cuba. How do think music and politics can mix for the betterment of society?

We don’t sit down and discuss what taboos we’d like to break. We are musicians who play great music, and who hope to reach the widest audience possible. There is lots of talk about politics and the orchestra has not stayed away from it. However we want to create a bond between different cultures by connecting on a human level. We have a common heritage which can be found in our shared experiences. If something good can come out of these exchanges, it would be a great result for all.

What does it feel like performing in different venues and cities of the world?

Every place is different. Each has a different atmosphere, a “perfume” – the diffuse feeling which you cannot begin to describe. Yet one is struck by how similar these places are as well, whether it is Chicago, Tokyo, Hamburg, Paris or Hanoi. Music is able to transcend boundaries without you even saying a word.

What roles do you think classical musicians can play in contemporary society?

Classical musicians should be incredibly dedicated to education, to refresh and rejuvenate audiences by introducing music to kids, families and schools. We need to have a palpable influence, to go out, demonstrate and make them aware that we exist. Once in the concert hall, intellectually stimulating programmes will draw those who are curious about history and philosophy to see connections between the works. Classical music seems to be excluded from contemporary culture, so we have work of catching up to do.

Orchestras have been compared with museums, and there’s nothing wrong with that as long as they are not just recycling old ideas. The great museums are repositories of art and centres for research, the ones which encourage young artists to present art in new and innovative ways.

Having performed there, what were your thoughts of Vietnam?

Hanoi was a fascinating place, presenting a kaleidoscope of impressions. The food was of an exotic nature and wonderfully unfamiliar. I remember people sitting by the streets and eating from roadside stands. We performed at the small but very charming Opera House (left) with terrific acoustics. The audience showed complete concentration, was very receptive and appreciative.

What do you remember as the most unusual location to have given a concert?

[He pauses long and hard for a thought.] That must have been a concert with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra which we did in a little town in the South of France near Monte Carlo. It was town square without a stage or amphitheatre, surrounded by sidewalk cafes, and we sat and performed on the cathedral steps. It had unbelievable acoustics and people peered out of windows to watch us perform, just the perfect summer night!

I feel very lucky that my job allows me to travel and to meet people. It is physically demanding, but keeping busy gives me the energy never to be tired!

Here is the Silver Kris article (co-written with Editor Pearl Lee), with some differences.

(Click on image to enlarge.)

No comments: