Looking back, I find that I have attended concerts conducted by the New York Philharmonic’s last six Music Directors. (Gulp, I must be a geezer.)
Even though I only saw a small percentage of the total conducting output of each of these men (hope there’ll be a woman at the helm in the not-too-distant future), I’d like to share some brief memories of each of them and offer my opinion that Alan Gilbert, who became Music Director in 2009, is the greatest of them all.
Please note that I will publish this post in two installments – one today, and one next week. Nobody wants to read a blog post that’s longer than about 500 words and you shouldn’t want to either.
Alan Gilbert, Music Director 2009-present
Alan Gilbert is a dream conductor who is just right for the Philharmonic today. He is youthful, energetic, personable and casual in his interactions with audiences. He is just the man to motivate younger concert-goers to come to hear the orchestra, to subscribe to concert series, and to become patrons, board members, and volunteers. I have attended many of his orchestral rehearsals and he treats the orchestra members with good humor and respect. Could it be that dictatorial, demeaning conductors are finally becoming vestiges of the past? Let’s hope so.

As a conductor, he is demonstrative but unlike some of his predecessors, never in a way that distracts from the music. His beat is crystal-clear at all times. Perhaps most importantly, he has a seemingly infallible inner sense of the pulse of very piece he conducts. That inner heartbeat is present at the start of every movement and it is still palpable in the middle and at the end. I hope that everybody who attends his concerts realizes how rare a thing that is.
From a programming point of view, we’ll see what happens in the years to come. He was responsible for engaging the Finnish composer/pianist Magnus Lindberg as Composer in Residence for the 2009-2010 season – a good move to introduce the Phil’s audience to the work of a good living composer. More recently, he appointed the American composer Christopher Rouse to the same residency. That’s another good choice. Rouse’s music has a unique power to welcome listeners in instead of driving them away. In terms of programming of older works, Gilbert programs a good mix of standard repertory, intermixed with contemporary works to create concerts that are balanced and rich in variety. Like his predecessor Leonard Bernstein, he is again hoping that the works of the Danish composer Carl Nielsen (1865-1931) will catch fire with listeners, which has never quite happened in the past.
Alan Gilbert is the greatest Music Director of the last half-century. Thankfully, we will able to see him at work for many seasons to come.

And be sure to watch this video, “Alan Gilbert, A Maestro for New York,” made at the time that Alan Gilbert was appointed Music Director of the Phil.

Also, this video of him conducting “A Concert for New York,” which took place on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

In a future post, I’ll give a quick overview of the Philharmonic Music Directors who preceded Mr. Gilbert. Be sure to check back!