Alan Gilbert launches his tenure as Chief Conductor of Hamburg’s NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra at the start of the 2019–20 season. The Grammy Award-winning conductor combines an international outlook with openness, musical curiosity, versatility, and a commitment to building bridges between the traditional and the modern. From 2009–17, he was Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, where his innovative ideas and activities made a decisive impact on the cultural life of the city. His close collaboration with the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra dates back to their first concerts together in 2001. From 2004–15, he served as the orchestra’s Principal Guest Conductor.
“I am looking forward with great excitement to my time as Chief Conductor of the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra. This marks a promising new chapter in our common history, and I feel that we are joining at an opportune moment. The NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra sees itself as having a deep social responsibility – we want to share music widely and meaningfully and make great music that is accessible and understandable to all. The musicians’ enthusiasm is both infectious and also in total sync with the spirit with which I try to approach all that I do. I can’t wait to get started on this musical adventure.”
Gilbert and the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra launch the 2019–20 season with a three-week festival titled #Sounds like Gilbert. Under his curatorship, the festival’s six programs offer a first look at the musical journey ahead, celebrating both the traditional and the new. Paying tribute to the NDR’s living heritage, the Opening Night program (Sep 6 & 7) kicks off with the First Symphony of Hamburg native Brahms, followed by the world premiere of a new work by South Korea’s Unsuk Chin, the NDR’s 2019–20 Composer-in-Residence (see below). The program concludes with three emotionally charged 20th-century works from Gilbert’s American homeland: Bernstein’s First Symphony, “Jeremiah,” which is still rarely performed in Germany; Ives’s The Unanswered Question; and Varèse’s visionary Amériques.
The festival’s remaining concerts continue to explore the tension between tradition and modernity. This is reflected even in the choice of venues, with performances of Magnus Lindberg’s pathbreaking epic, Kraft, in the state-of-the-art new Elbphilharmonie, and of Haydn symphonies in the Laeiszhalle, which dates from 1908. Looking ahead to Beethoven’s 250th anniversary next year, Gilbert contrasts music by the master composer with contemporary works by Jörg Widmann and Enno Poppe. The theme continues to play out over the coming season, when Gilbert juxtaposes music of the past 100 years with such time-honored classics as Mahler’s Ninth Symphony and Verdi’s Requiem.
The inauguration festival also gives audiences the chance to get to know Gilbert as a chamber musician and discussion partner. He plays viola in a chamber concert, joining members of the orchestra for a performance of the two Brahms sextets (Sep 21), and moderates a discussion about music and social issues with NDR host Susanne Stichler, in the orchestra’s new talk series, “IDEAS | On Music” (Sep 11). The NDR’s relationship with its audience, and its role in the local community, are both major concerns for the new Chief Conductor, who presides over the NDR musicians’ upcoming appearances in Hamburg’s St. Pauli district, in a new club concert series.
Over the course of the season, Gilbert and the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra make a strong programming statement with numerous world and German premieres, for which the Elbphilharmonie’s transparent acoustics provide the perfect ambience. Music by the NDR’s Composer-in-Residence, Unsuk Chin, recently named as winner of the prestigious 2019 Hamburg Bach Award, will be heard in no fewer than seven programs. Besides the Opening Night concerts, highlights of the residency include the German premieres of Chin’s compositions Spira and Mannequin, both of which were co-commissioned by the orchestra. Other featured contemporary composers include Germany’s Enno Poppe and Detlev Glanert, who have both written new violin concertos for the NDR, and France’s Thierry Escaich, whose viola concerto, La nuit des chants, will receive its German premiere.
Gilbert looks forward to collaborating with a host of outstanding soloists: pianists Iveta Apkalna, Yefim Bronfman, Makoto Ozone, and Yuja Wang, and violinists Lisa Batiashvili, Leonidas Kavakos, Carolin Widmann, and Frank Peter Zimmermann.
Commitment to young musicians is another subject dear to the new Chief Conductor’s heart. At his instigation, the Academy of the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra, which provides emerging young professionals with valuable early career experience, looks forward to expanding its work with the launch of two new residency programs in 2019-20. Petr Popelka, of the Czech Republic, has been chosen as the Academy’s first Conducting Fellow. Likewise, violinist Augustin Hadelich has been named as its first Associate Artist, and will appear regularly with the orchestra as soloist and chamber musician over the next three seasons.
Other highlights of the inaugural season see Gilbert lead My Fair Lady, one of his favorite works, at the orchestra’s New Year’s Eve concerts; launch the Hamburg International Music Festival with accounts of Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass and Mahler’s Ninth Symphony; and helm a new series of “Concerts for Hamburg.”