Wednesday, January 20, 2010

NY Phil on the road again

After a string of highly-acclaimed performances in their home hall, the New York Philharmonic and its Music Director, Alan Gilbert, head out this week for their first European tour. EUROPE/WINTER 2010 comprises 13 performances in nine European cities: Barcelona, Zaragoza, and Madrid, all in Spain; Zurich, Switzerland; Frankfurt, Cologne, and Dortmund (the Orchestra’s debut there) in Germany; Paris, France; and London, England. Joining Gilbert and the orchestra on tour are soloists whose recent performances with them in New York were lavishly praised: pianist Yefim Bronfman, who will reprise Prokofiev’s devilishly difficult Piano Concerto No. 2, and baritone Thomas Hampson, the Philharmonic’s Mary and James G. Wallach Artist-in-Residence, who will once again sing John Adams’s heart-wrenching Whitman setting, The Wound-Dresser.
Also on the tour programs are the European premieres of Magnus Lindberg’s EXPO, commissioned by the New York Philharmonic for the opening this season of Gilbert’s tenure as Music Director, and Sibelius’s sweeping Symphony No. 2, a work Gilbert and the Philharmonic have never yet performed together. This tour marks the Philharmonic’s first return to Spain since 2001. The Orchestra last performed in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1985, in Cologne in 2007, and in Frankfurt, Paris, and London in 2008. This will be the Philharmonic’s debut in Dortmund. Soon after, they return to New York where they will perform the world premiere of Christopher Rouse’s Odna Zhizn, a New York Philharmonic commission, on a program at Avery Fisher Hall also featuring two works by Mozart: his Sinfonia Concertante for Winds (with four soloists from the Orchestra: Liang Wang, Principal Oboe; Mark Nuccio, Acting Principal Clarinet; Judith LeClair, Principal Bassoon; and Philip Myers, Principal Horn) and “Jupiter” Symphony (Feb 10-12 & 16).
On Saturday, February 13, Gilbert and the orchestra return to New York’s Carnegie Hall for a single concert showcasing the U.S. premiere of Magnus Lindberg’s landmark Clarinet Concerto with soloist Kari Kriikku, for whom the work was written, alongside Wagner’s Rienzi Overture and Sibelius’s Symphony No. 2. Lindberg is the Philharmonic’s Marie-Josée Kravis Composer-in-Residence.
A conversation with Alan Gilbert follows:
Q: What were some of the ideas behind the various programs you’ll be performing in Europe and was it hard coming up with repertoire choices?
AG: There are certain pieces that seem to appear again and again on orchestral tours, but some of the pieces we’re playing are fresh. The Berg Three [Orchestral] Pieces, for example, aren’t [usually] done on tour, especially in this context: as a completion of the Schubert “Unfinished” Symphony, which highlights a line that existed between Schubert and Berg. I think it’s very exciting.
Q: And was it absolutely essential to include a major work by an American composer?
AG: I don’t think about programming that way, but the fact that this extraordinary John Adams work fits into this program that starts with Haydn’s Symphony 49 and progresses to the devastation of the Berg was fortuitous and gratifying.
Q: You just performed Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2 and Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 together on a program in New York and one critic wondered whether this made sense as a tour program. What do you respond to that?
AG: I always thought that these pieces worked well for a tour. We knew we’d have [Yefim] “Fima” Bronfman, the greatest exponent of this piece alive today, and the Philharmonic can make a sound for these pieces that is utterly idiomatic, and profoundly expressive. What better way to show what we are doing together than with this music?
Q: Have you performed in all of these tour cities before?
AG: No. I’ve never been to Barcelona, which I’m particularly excited about, having heard about its being such a great city.
Q: Does one get a special feeling performing in a city like London, which has long been home to so many legendary orchestras?
AG: I’ve always loved playing in London. They have an incredibly active and vibrant music scene there, and the opportunity to present my new partnership with this orchestra is a thrilling one. We’re looking forward to building a relationship with the London music-loving public over the years.
Q: Sibelius’s Symphony No. 2, which you’ll play with the orchestra at Carnegie Hall in February, is on the program for Europe, but you’ve not done that piece before in New York. What was the thinking there?
AG: I’ve done this symphony a lot in Scandinavia and I’ve always enjoyed hearing the New York Philharmonic play this very popular piece. We’ve already started rehearsing it for tour and I feel that there’s a special chemistry that comes from the Philharmonic’s unique understanding of the work and my Northern experience with it.
Q: Having lived in Stockholm for nine years, does going to Europe feel like going home in some way?
AG: Absolutely. For a significant portion of my life I spent well over half my time in Europe and there’s a comfort and a sense of familiarity that kicks in already as soon as I arrive at the various airports. I’m very excited about this tour.

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