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Gilbert to Head Juilliard's Conducting Program
Daniel J. Wakin | The New York Times | 12 January 2011

In one building at Lincoln Center the music director of the New York Philharmonic plies his trade and is by definition at the pinnacle of the conducting profession. Just across 65th Street, eager young conducting students at the Juilliard School toil and dream of big careers on the podium.

Now they will be working together.

Juilliard said on Wednesday that it had appointed Alan Gilbert, who is in his second season as the Philharmonic's music director, to the post of director of conducting and orchestral studies. It is the first time, Julliard officials say, that the same person will have both jobs. (Members of the orchestra have long taught there.)

Mr. Gilbert, starting in September, will take charge of teaching the conservatory's handful of conducting students and oversee its orchestras, guiding decisions on guest conductors, repertory and concerts. James DePriest, 74, the current director, will step aside but continue to work at Juilliard as principal conductor and director emeritus, the conservatory said.

All of the Philharmonic's music directors have had some involvement with the school. Mr. Gilbert, 43, had already gone beyond, taking on a Juilliard professorship that has had him coaching a string quartet, leading the occasional seminar and conducting the student orchestra.

The new position further broadens his influence over New York's classical music scene.

For students in the two-year conducting program Mr. Gilbert's presence will be a boon. He said he would require them to attend Philharmonic rehearsals, have them meet orchestra members and possibly assign them internships in Philharmonic departments at Avery Fisher Hall.

"Just drinking in orchestral culture in ways that are probably unquantifiable is absolutely essential for young conductors," Mr. Gilbert said in a telephone interview before going out to play in the snow with his children. "It's one of the things I benefited from, growing up around the New York Philharmonic."

Mr. Gilbert, was raised on the Upper West Side of Manhattan; his father, now retired, was a violinist in the orchestra, and his mother still plays in the violin section. Mr. Gilbert studied violin in Juilliard's precollege division during high school and came back for a master's degree. He was chief conductor of the Stockholm Royal Philharmonic before returning to New York.

He said he would change the schedule of the Juilliard lab orchestra, which the conducting students train with, from Tuesday morning to Friday morning, so the fledgling baton wielders could attend the Philharmonic's Tuesday rehearsal, the first of the program week. On Friday mornings he will oversee the young conductors, and he will lead seminars on Saturdays when he is in town. Mr. Gilbert said that he spends 20 weeks a year in New York, 12 of them on the podium.

Mr. Gilbert said he would bring in the conducting teacher James Ross as his assistant, to be a more permanent presence. Mr. Ross is director of orchestral activities at the University of Maryland. Guest conductors of the Philharmonic will also be urged to work with the students, Mr. Gilbert said.

Juilliard accepts three to six conducting students a year.

Mr. Gilbert said the other half of his Juilliard job would consist of helping to train future generations of orchestra players coming out of the conservatory.

His close ties to the city, and his promise to be a strong local presence, were selling points offered by the Philharmonic's board and executives when he was named music director; he is the first New York native to have the job.

He and his family moved to his old neighborhood, to an apartment with a view of Zabar's. Mr. Gilbert has lead the Philharmonic's school concerts and some of its summer performances.

Joseph W. Polisi, Juilliard's president, whose father played in the Philharmonic, said previous Philharmonic music directors did not have Mr. Gilbert's commitment to teaching.

"The main thrust of being a music director of the New York Philharmonic was the result of what happened from the podium," Mr. Polisi said. "But Alan's vision is one that's so wonderfully refreshing and alive, and it's about having the music director being a very important part of the community."

Mr. Gilbert has a five-year contract with the orchestra. Mr. Polisi said that no consideration had been given to what would happen to the Juilliard position if Mr. Gilbert left the Philharmonic. "We're seeing this as a long-term association," he said.

Mr. Gilbert said he had long thought about building a conducting program. "It's a very elusive and for me a fascinating area," he said.
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