Buoyed by his cheerleaders at the New York Times, the chief conductor of the New York Philharmonic has enjoyed a pretty easy run in his first season and a half. No-one local has questioned his international standing (low), his temperament (fractious) or his parentage (both were players in the Philharmonic, trailing a whiff of nepotism).
When he took over as head of Juilliard’s conducting program last week, the Times hack
hailed the appointment in terms usually reserved for the Second Coming. No-one, the Times reported, had ever held both posts before. Gilbert was evidently a better maestro than Mahler, Toscanini, Mitropoulous, Bernstein, Boulez or any other predecessor.
Mercifully, New York is a diverse town and if its manifold opinions do not get aired in print media they can always find other outlets. Will Robin, in his Seated Ovation
blog, brings an insider view from Juilliard, describing Gilbert as ‘a bratty child’ who had to ‘micromanage’ instruments in the orchestra, demanded constant eye-contact and achieved limited results. Telling the young musicians that they had ‘their heads up their asses’ did not go down too well with students or faculty. But they gave him the job because the Philharmonic has put all its eggs in Gilbert’s basket and the Times blows a trumpet of unremitting praise.
One sour blog, based in Berlin and citing an anonymous whistle-blower, does not burst the Gilbert bubble. There will be many more hallelujahs from the Times before the Philharmonic’s new clothes are proved to be insubstantial. Nevertheless, the dissenting voices from Juilliard are a New York first. Watch for more.
Meantime, here’s some more commentary on the tyranny of eye contact
and a lavish piece of Gilbert puffery from his house journal (photos James Estrin, NY Times