Sub conductor, 31, jumps in at NY Philharmonic

Sub conductor, 31, jumps in at NY Philharmonic


norman lebrecht

February 10, 2017

Semyon Bychkov called in last night with stomach flu.

On hand was the NY Phil’s assistant conductor Joshua Gersen, eager and ready to grab his moment with Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini and 6th symphony, his subscription concert debut.

Unlike Bernstein, he didn’t make the front page of the Times.

In these diminished times, he might not make the paper at all.



  • Adam says:

    So it’s a good thing we have your blog – thanks Norman!

  • Jerry McCathern says:

    Unfortunately Mr. Gersen is no Bernstein. His speedy run through of Tchaikovsky 6th left me cold. Completely devoid of passion and pathos, I had the impression he was trying to get through the piece as fast as possible. The orchestra played perfectly but their hearts weren’t in it. With all the great podium talent I can’t believe the orchestra management put a rank amateur in front of this great orchestra.

  • Jerry says:

    I don’t believe HM and John heard the concert, I did, and my critique stands. Regarding the NY Times, who did not have a critic there, the orchestra always applauds the conductor and in this case it was out of gratitude that they got through the program without a major disaster. I’m sure Mr. Gersen was terrified, which probably contributed to his rushed, nervous performance. He didn’t even get a full rehearsal and it was a last minute decision. I’m sympathetic to all of that. But the Tchaik 6 is an orchestra war horse that any assistant conductor of any major orchestra should know cold and have their own emotional and personal approach. He didn’t. He just beat time and blew through all the dramatic pauses and rushed the climatic high points. Hopefully the subsequent performances will be better and I really do wish him well. But Thursday he was not ready for Prime Time.

    • Bruce says:

      Well, you were there and none of us (probably) were. I certainly wasn’t. Your experience is your experience, and not the experience we would have had if we were there.

      I never did understand that “don’t criticize if you can’t do it better” stance. I remember a discussion on another site where someone had something they didn’t like about Heifetz’s playing. A bunch of other violinists jumped on him, challenging him to play it better — apparently one may not criticize Heifetz if one can’t play better than Heifetz. (I don’t play the violin at all, and I don’t like listening to Heifetz. I stayed out of that discussion 😛 )

      A couple of thoughts came to mind, though, while reading the back-&-forth:

      • He says in the interview that he didn’t have a chance to rehearse the Pathetique, and felt somewhat bound to follow Bychkov’s interpretation as much as he could. Who knows, you might have been left cold by Bychkov’s rushed, nervous performance if what you heard was mostly his (SB’s) interpretation.

      • One person’s “rushed and nervous, blowing through all the dramatic pauses” is another person’s “intense, driven, devoid of sentimentality.” I’ve had disagreements with friends over different interpretations of someone’s interpretation, if you will.

      • Speaking of Mr. Gerson being “no Bernstein,” one way of looking at that assessment would be to use the “kid given the keys to the Ferrari” analogy. One might say that he was more interested in staying on the road and returning the Ferrari safely to the garage, and not the kind of egomaniac who says “FINALLY I get to do whatever the hell I want” and decides to drive it right over the guard rail to see what will happen (coughBERNSTEINcough).

      As I said, just a couple of thoughts. I appreciate your not letting yourself be shouted down.

      • John Borstlap says:

        That’s all very interesting…. I wish I had been there. I try to imagine how you would feel, being an assistant, going to the concert of your boss with your pocket score, to hear what he does for real after the rehearsels, pencil at hand. You sit relaxed in your seat somewhere at the side, looking forward to the combination of enjoying a concert and doing some ‘homework’ on the scores, and suddenly you are asked to take it over, no time to reflect on an answer – save the concert, or the audience has to be sent-home and your name get a little cross behind it on the list.