On June 10th Alan Gilbert conducted his final concert in New York as Music Director of the Philharmonic. The finale, part of a series of farewell concerts, was a unique performance of Mahler 7, entitled “A Concert for Unity.” Twenty-two musicians from around the world joined Philharmonic musicians, creating an international ensemble that showcased the unifying power of music.
This piece and its message exemplify the imagination Gilbert brought to the New York Philharmonic and the impact he has had on the historic institution. Over the course of his nine-year tenure, “Gilbert has made an incredible mark on the orchestra’s history and that of the city itself.” (The New Yorker) Gilbert’s reputation for innovation has been bolstered by a few distinctive characteristics.
Surprisingly, Gilbert was the first native New Yorker to hold the coveted position as Music Director of the New York Philharmonic. Many of his initiatives and concerts, including the free performance of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony held on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, strengthened ties between the Philharmonic and his hometown.
Gilbert also pushed the flexibility of the New York Philharmonic by he reimagining orchestra concerts; combinations of cornerstone composers with live performance elements (picture a juggling principle viola during a performance of A Dancer’s Dream) brought a breath of fresh air to the established institution.
Unorthodox, re-imagined performances seem to be the result of another signature of Gilbert’s tenure, a belief in the power of music to heal and cross borders. Gilbert has emphasized that his final performance of Mahler 7, “A Concert for Unity”, was no exception,
“Music has a unique capacity to connect people’s hearts and souls. I wanted these final concerts to call attention to the ways in which music can unite people across borders and spread a message of harmony and shared humanity.”
The piece itself, Mahler’s 7th Symphony, brings life to this mission and provides a fitting finale for the conductor. Also known as Song of the Night, the symphony is often described as a transcendence from darkness to light. The piece’s harmonic opening is followed by three haunting movements of “Night Music.” These unsettling middle movements are a necessary build up for the virtuosic final movement and finale. In combination, the piece’s progression conveys an overall optimistic tone, exhibiting the power and emotion of music, ultimately providing a brilliant and hopeful send off for Gilbert.
On July 27th Bravo! Vail’s audience has the chance to experience Gilbert conduct Mahler 7. This piece and its powerful meaning will be a special and significant component of Bravo! Vail’s farewell to the Maestro.
The New York Times: Review: Alan Gilbert Leaves the Philharmonic, Violin in Hand
"As for the Mahler symphony, its first movement was Mr. Gilbert athis best: tense and taut without exaggeration, its episodes unified –but not flattened into – into an organic journey.”
“The playing throughout was shining, powerful and agile.”
The Classical Source: Review: New York Philharmonic/Alan Gilbert – Concert for Unity – Mahler 7
“The Philharmonic and guest musicians pulled out all the stops in the carnival and triumphant Finale, a fitting send-off for Gilbert, with trumpet fanfares, bells, and a reference to Die Meistersinger.”
The Financial Times: Review: New York Philharmonic/Gilbert, Geffen Hall, New York — Passion and Precision
“Gilbert turned super-serious with a suave yet gutsy performance of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony. Lasting nearly 90 minutes, it was ferocious one moment, dreamy the next, just as the composer prescribed.”
Concerto Net: Review: Two Musical Credos
“A Mahler symphony, a work in which the New York Philharmonic, with its superb brass and horns–and a conductor who loves those huge climaxes–can always endear audiences. In this case, though, Mr. Gilbert chose Mahler’s Seventh Symphony, so rarely played, so difficult, and so uncommercial.”
"This, after all, was not Mahler the Mystic or Mahler the Confused. It was Mahler the relaxed, ready to experiment, to be a Titian or Caravaggio of colors. All one needed was ears. Including an unalloyed joy from those few measures which whispered a reverent “Amen” with an augmented string choir.”