What’s wrong with the New York Philharmonic? Look at Boston…

What’s wrong with the New York Philharmonic? Look at Boston…


norman lebrecht

March 29, 2017

Music director Andris Nelsons has four weeks of concerts coming up, four weeks of the highest talent.

Mitsuko Uchida plays a Mozart concerto as prelude to a Bruckner symphony.



Radu Lupu makes one of his rare appearances.

Anne-Sophie Mutter plays Tchaikovsky and Takemitsu.

Kristine Opolais features in Mahler 4, in a concert that also features Leif Ove Andsnes.

When did the NY Phil last have a music director or manager who could summon such a concentration of talent and such a focus of content?



  • Eyal Braun says:

    The NYPO has one more problem: Carnegie Hall presents each year nearly every great orchestra in the world. These orchestra bring with them some of the best soloists. If I would live in NY, only some very interesting program (as some of A. Gilbert’s) would attract me to hear the NYPO. When I am in NY, I usually go to the Carnegie hall concerts.
    And… the acoustic of the Avery Fisher Hall is among the worst I know…

  • bye bye says:

    Anne-Sophie Mutter, highest talent?

    In terms of technique, she is getting wobblier and wobblier in her tone, last time I heard her, she was for long stretches simply out of tune.

    And in terms of interpretation, because she has to use such a wide vibrato to compensate for her less than precise fingering, she’s also getting way too schmaltzy in her playing, every thing is a portamento.

  • Steinway Fanatic says:

    In reviewing the NYPO soloists of the last few years, one questions whether it’s the Music Director and manager who select the soloists & guest conductors, or if in fact it’s wealthy patrons and board members who influence their choices. For example, were Inon Barnatan or Jeffrey Kahane truly the best artists that the NYPO could have engaged?

  • MacroV says:

    Nothing that ridding oneself of a myopia with respect to the Philharmonic and Alan Gilbert wouldn’t cure. In recent weeks they had the incomparable Marc-Andre Hamelin (though perhaps less than ideally used in Franck’s Symphonic Variations); Yo-Yo Ma in Salonen’s new Cello Concerto; and the great Robert Langevin in Christopher Rouse’s Flute Concerto. And now they’re heading on a European tour where the programs include Yo-Yo Ma in Salonen’s concerto (and not the usual “play it safe” of a well-known soloist playing a Beethoven piano concerto) and Adams’ Absolute Jest and Harmonielehre. The Philharmonic has never been more interesting than in these recent years with Alan Gilbert, and I’m sorry to see him go.

    As others have pointed out, no other orchestra in the world has to contend with a better hall a few blocks away regularly featuring great international orchestras bringing their A-game and big-name soloists, not to mention the world’s best opera house across the plaza. Boston, while a great music town even without the BSO, has nothing that competes with the BSO.

    • Daniel F. says:

      I wholly concur in your assessment of Alan Gilbert, a courageous, insightful programmer and, on the whole, a wonderful conductor of music written in the current century and in the previous one. A good many of his concerts were what drew me to NYC from the relatively great distance of southern Virginia. Salonen might have brought some of the same vision and ability. Management’s choice was a brutal disappointment, but with Ms. Borda back on the job, he will put bodies in the seats: the Philharmonic will be able to sell its altered, much more conservative product. Maestro and Manager will be honored and loved. Huge success story in the making. Not with my ticket.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Why choosing prejudice? The new music director is one of the great names internationally.

      • opus 131 says:

        To each his own. I’ve played under both Gilbert and Van Zweden. I would be appalled if either were Music Director of my orchestra (for somewhat different reasons), and I know for a fact that my views are extremely widely shared by the musicians they have actually conducted.

  • John Borstlap says:

    The BSO has more staff members than players in the orchestra.

    • Tom C says:

      The Boston Symphony organization is much more than the BSO. It’s the Boston Pops, Explanade concerts, Tanglewood. It’s activities make it a year round musical organization.


      Tom C

    • Tom Quill says:

      This is the case for nearly every orchestra in a major American city.

  • harold braun says:

    Nothing is wrong with the NYPO.You are wrong.Just read the NYPO website. I don’t get paid to do the research,5 minutes of work,for you

  • Kimberly Zhang says:

    Why bother counting Opolais when she’s married to Nelsons?

    • harold braun says:

      I’ve never been a huge fan of hers.She often sounds strained,with a wide,uncontrollable wobble which bears witness of the fact that she sang to much beyond her “fach”.For Mahler 4th’s childlike vision her mature voice is certainly an odd choice.Christina Landshamer,who sang it for the New York Phil under Alan Gilbert on their tour in Essen last sunday,was a perfect,far more apt stylistic choice.

    • Bruce says:

      Because she doesn’t have to sing in Boston if she doesn’t want to.

      • Theodore McGuiver says:

        …but her most prestigious engagements come from being associated with Nelsons.

        • Peter says:

          Yes, and that nepotistic side of the business is sickening and damaging to the art form.
          It should be prohibited in contracts, that conductors use their executive power to hire family members.

  • Emil says:

    Yes, why not judge JvZ’s season-programming skills before he has the chance to program a single season?

    • Alex Jenkins says:

      Thank you. So tired of hearing the baseless arguments of the armchair conductors and performers. Honestly, throwing shade at Anne-Sophie, give me a f’ing break.

      Give van Zweden a chance and give credit where credit is due. NYP is not the Boston Symphony and the Boston Symphony is not the NYP. Have pride in your cities cultural assets and be grateful that you have them and that they have different strengths!

      • John Borstlap says:

        Well-spoken…. common sense. But music lovers often suffer from a shortage of both, their passion carrying then away from the real world.

  • LA NewYorker says:

    You are 40 years behind the times. Oh, it’s fun to bash the Philharmonic, but they are above reproach — really, that party trick went out decades ago. It’s a fine orchestra filled with dedicated players who attract the best soloists. Programming — a primer here, since clearly this site is uninformed — is done mostly between music director and whoever the right-hand, unsung adviser (there IS one, always, on staff) with some input from CEO. This small crew also decides on visiting conductors, who can be well over half the season and decide on their OWN soloist invitations. Please stop bashing the Phil. They have had to live with this un-fixable hall for years and they still sound spectacular. And they are very fortunate to get the wonderful Borda back.

  • Peter says:

    Oh all these experts again.

  • Joel stein says:

    The ny Phil programming under Gilbert has been far more adventurous than the BSO and I subscribe to Boston and attend NY regularly. Norman you’ve got a ny hate thing going on.

    • Steve P says:

      Gee, what gave you that idea?

      I have lived the transformation of NYPO into a much finer ensemble with Gilbert. Both modern and romantic music sound fantastic with this group – the Nielsen set is just unbelievably awesome.

      Enjoying the BSO Shostakovich set, too. Happy there is some great music making in ‘Murika.

  • Cyril Blair says:

    I have learned from this thread that Anne-Sophie Mutter and Kristine Opolais both have a wide uncontrollable wobble. (How are they even able to make it onstage?)

  • Donna Howe says:

    What’s wrong with enjoying both…..and even Carnegie on occasion? And let’s not forget the NEC concerts in Jordan Hall for frrsh, new voived!

  • Ben says:

    Not to put gas into the flame also known as NY Phil bashing ….

    It ain’t my fav orchestra because of their home venue’s acoustics.

    It ain’t my fav orchestra because the orchestra musicians don’t seem to radiate much joy and pride on stage.

    It ain’t my fav orchestra because their home venue requires me to sell blood in the black market just to afford parking and a bottled water.

    It ain’t my fav orchestra because some audience (sorry!) lacks serious EQ — not an exaggeration, but whenever Yuja Wang bows 90 degree, the number of camera flashes tripled. Just pure low taste and bad EQ in that hall.

    And do I have to mention the number of phone noise during their concerts?

    But … It ain’t my fav orchestra NOT BECAUSE of apparent ‘lack’ of star system.

    Basically it comes down to the ledger. Who fills the hall, and who is affordable. Does any of you know, for example, how much fee ASM collects per concert? 🙂 I do. Boston simply has too much money to spent and an divine hall for stars to play. AN also have stronger European links than over AG — that’s an advantage too for attracting regular stars.

    The Boston audience is plain blessed — or at least they deserve to be — after the Ozawa and Levine years.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      The star system was just as well represented in the BSO season during the years after Levine’s departure and before Nelsons’ arrival. Ditto for the years between Ozawa and Levine.

  • harold braun says:

    They’re both wonderful and unique orchestras.Love them both equally.

  • Gloriarex says:

    If anyone can help bring the NYP back to its rightful place in the orchestra firmament of stars, it will be Deborah Borda. She has completely remade the LA Phil into one of the best run, financially stable and artistically exciting orchestra in the country. New York is lucky to have her back.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Mrs Borda said she does not like the atonal modernist pieces for her orchestra. That shows she is also a musical person, good news fot the NY Phil.

  • esfir ross says:

    Jeffrey Kahane,who? When you hear him last time. I did-mediocre pianist, not match for NYPO, Inan Barnatan’s better but not very exiting.

  • ben LEGEBEKE says:

    Nelsons,Nezet-Seguin and van Zweden are the new coming men of our time. Despite some good programs to disguise himself Alan Gilbert is a mediocre conductor,with no hint of a maestro outlook at all….