Breaking: New job for Alan Gilbert

Breaking: New job for Alan Gilbert


norman lebrecht

January 16, 2020

The former New York Phil chief has been appointed music director of Royal Swedish Opera in Stockholm.

He is also head of the NDR Elbphlharmonie orchestra in Hamburg.

Gilbert put in 8 choppy years at the NY Phil. Before that, he was head of the Stockholm Philharmonic.

He’s known to the Swedes.

From the press kit:

“I am thrilled to welcome Alan Gilbert to the Royal Swedish Opera as our Music
Director,” says CEO and Artistic Director Birgitta Svendén. “Alan’s performances with
the company over the past several seasons were major highlights for our audiences
and for everyone involved in the productions, artistic experiences of exceptional
quality that I will never forget. We feel it is a major achievement for us, indeed a
critical milestone, to bring a musician of his extraordinary stature and international
reputation to our company.  We are filled with pride to have such a visionary
conductor join us, someone who will inspire the whole organization musically and will
be at the core of everything we do. His leadership will no doubt enable us to take our
company to the next level in terms of our artistic breadth and excellence. With his
long personal history in the city and deep connection to our company, Alan will not
only be our Music Director, he will be a member of the ‘family’.”


  • pjl says:

    A GREAT HOUSE; saw a wonderful Der Ferne Klang recently. He will have a fine chorus master to work with, my former colleague James Grossmith who trained with Martin Brabbins, I think

  • Allen says:

    is it just me, or does one not think of Gilbert as an opera-conductor in general? From the Operabase website, it looks like over the 3 years of 2018-20 he is only scheduled to lead 4 productions. I am just asking, has done significantly more opera than I am aware of?

    • Petros Linardos says:

      Gilbert spent quite a few formative years with Santa Fe opera. Santa Fe only has summer seasons.

      “Gilbert’s long association with Santa Fe Opera dates back to 1993, when he served as the orchestra’s assistant concertmaster. Prior to that, both of Gilbert’s parents played in the opera’s orchestra, and his father served as concertmaster for a number of years. In 2001, Gilbert conducted his first Santa Fe Opera production, Verdi’s Falstaff. In 2003, he became Santa Fe Opera’s first music director. His initial contract concluded at the end of the 2006 season. In November 2006, it was reported that Gilbert was to be on “official sabbatical from June through August 2007″ to spend more time with his family.In May 2007, Santa Fe Opera announced that Gilbert had officially concluded his tenure as their music director, as of 2006.” (from wikipedia)

      So, Gilbert is no seasoned opera conductor like Pappano, but has far more opera experience than other jet setting conductors who get the occasional opera gig based on their name recognition, sometimes with poor results.

    • MacroV says:

      He was director of Santa Fe Opera before he went to the Philharmonic. He’s not born to the opera house but he’s done a reasonable bit. But yes, his career has been more symphonic than operatic.

      But I’ve always found him to be a very thoughtful musician and a good institutional leader – the naysayers of SD notwithstanding – so this seems lie a good match.

    • phf655 says:

      At the Met he conducted John Adams’ Doctor Atomic, Don Giovanni, and some performances of Cosi Fan Tutte as part of a joint project with Juilliard. While Music Director of the New York Philharmonic I always had the feeling that he could conduct anything quite well, particularly when it came to complex new works, but he never worked out a distinctive view of the basic repertory .

      • John Borstlap says:

        That was also my impression after watching various videos on the internet. With music where everything, or most, is at the outside, he is very capable, but where the inside is concerned, he seems quite empty. Hence his ‘specialism’: 20C music.

    • SMH says:

      Gilbert’s Hansel und Gretel with Los Angeles Opera many years ago was noteworthy for his incredibly listless conducting of that gorgeous score. He literally brought nothing to it. Was shocked when he was named to the NY Phil post a couple of months later.

      • John Borstlap says:


        Interestingly, there is a fundamental divide between establishment modern music of the last century and everything going before. Although most ‘old’ scores are much ‘easier’ on the surface, they are much more complex in psychological/musical terms. Complexities have moved from the psychological/musical to the level of the structure of the sound.

    • fflambeau says:

      It’s just you. From OperaNews:

      “Gilbert made his Royal Swedish Opera debut in 2012 leading performances of Stephen Langridge’s production of Lohengrin, and he has since returned to the company to lead performances of Rosenkavalier as well as a gala celebration of the Birgit Nilsson centenary that featured Nina Stemme. ..Gilbert, who resides in Stockholm, has also become a frequent guest conductor at the world’s most important opera houses, including La Scala, the Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Zürich Opera, Semperoper Dresden and Santa Fe Opera, where he served as music director from 2003 through 06. In 2019, he conducted performances of productions of Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre with the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra, Die Tote Stadt in Milan and Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron at Dresden’s Semperoper.”

      Additionally, Alan Gilbert has recorded performances with opera great Renee Fleming (Decca); Daniel Börtz’s “His Name Was Orestes”;
      and led several other performances that intersect with orchestral and choral works like Mahler’s 9th and John Adams (with the Berlin Philharmonic) and Verdi’s iconic Requiem with the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester.

      The Baritone, Thomas Hampson was hired under Gilbert at the New York Philharmnic to the newly created position of “Artist in Residence”.

      He’s a huge talent.

  • Classical Music Whisperer says:

    8 ‘choppy years’? You must have made a mistake. I was in the front row for most of his performances and I would characterize those years as the new golden age of the NY Philharmonic and there can be no doubt that those years will be remembered with great fondness by anyone who was actually there in attendance. Let the record indicate that my testimony is not hearsay.

    • sam says:

      “the new golden age of the NY Philharmonic”

      You can like him without going totally overboard. Maybe a new bronze age.

      • Bone says:

        “Greatest hyberbole ever!”
        I really have enjoyed is Nielsen cycle – what musicality he gets from the NYPO!

        • Bruce says:

          I have that Nielsen set and it’s terrific. I’ve often thought it would be fun to subject some Gilbert naysayer to a blind listening test and see what they thought when they didn’t know he was the conductor.

    • Christopher Culver says:

      The “choppy years” is presumably a reference to Alan Gilbert’s difficulties in winning over subscriber audiences and ever-important patrons and philantropists, even if many music fans loved his performances. There were complaints about his attempt to program more Nielsen, for instance, as apparently this repertoire was seen as too modernist by some supporters of the orchestra.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Nielsen being modernist is hilarious.

        • MacroV says:

          At the Philharmonic it is. They have one of the most hidebound audiences anywhere. In supposedly one of the most musically sophisticated cities in the world. I often find the Philharmonic’s programming dreadfully uninspired, but with the audience they have, it can be tough to be adventurous.

          • Bruce says:

            Hence Boulez’s comment, when — as music director of the Philharmonic — he was asked why the orchestra played so much modern music:

            “What makes you say we play modern music?”

            (Can’t remember where I read it, and I’m paraphrasing)

        • Gaffney Feskoe says:

          Years ago, in the early 1970’s, while in college I was an usher at Symphony Hall Boston. During a performance of the Sibelius second symphony a couple got up during the performance to exit the hall muttering how they detested this “modern” music.

      • Novagerio says:

        The NYPhil had Boulez in the 70’s and a heavy diet of “modernism”, and now 45 years later the call Nielsen “too modern”?…Explain that…

    • Calvin says:

      And I have subscribed for over 30 years. “Choppy years” isn’t a description with which I would quibble.

  • Opera lover says:

    It seems like a trend in Scandinavia to appoint conductors with very limited experience in opera to music directors. Stockholm, and also Helsinki / Hannu Lintu.

    Maybe it’s a way to add a new dimension to an otherwise cooling down career in symphonic world. However, neither are known to be particularly excellent conductors for opera singers.

    I’m puzzled by the moves from their perspective too – why choose a regional opera house after bigger positions elsewhere? Maybe there is a genuine wish to learn new repertoire, and naturally a regional opera house is a good place for practising.

    • Peter says:

      Several incorrect things here. First, a little geography lesson, Helsinki (Finland) is not a part of Scandinavia. Not to mention that what you’ve stated is inaccurate.

      Second, Stockholm‘a opera is in no way a regional opera. It is the premier opera house in Scandinavia, attracting elite singers, musicians and conductors from all over the world.

      Lastly, Gilbert’s career is in no way cooling down. He was recently named conductor of Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, coinciding with the opening of their state of the art new house

      • Novagerio says:

        Peter: If Operalover changes the word Scandinavia with Nordic Countries, he stands absolutely correct.

      • Mick the Knife says:

        Hamburg to Stockholm is an hour and a half by air. Maybe there are family considerations. It appears he has a nice situation.

  • Opera lover says:

    As Gilbert himself puts it:

    ”I’m really thrilled that I have the chance to _add_ opera to my musical portfolio.”

  • phf655 says:

    His departure from the New York Philharmonic was clearly not voluntary, although the orchestra’s Board and Administration wanted it to look that way. Yet, I wouldn’t call his eight years ‘rocky’. Although Gilbert’s performances of standard repertoire were often unconvincing, I think the Philharmonic would be better off today if he were still the music director.

    • kaa12840 says:

      Alan Gilbert was a very nice conductor but seemed colorless most of the time without me having anything specific to complain about. He rarely stimulated the imagination of the audience, and so was let go.The fact that the NY Times critics, always obsessed about contemporary music kept giving him stellar reviews, it was really the lack of audience enthusiasm that led to his leaving. I think his wife is Swedish and from Stockholm, so that is where all these sentiments of hm being a member of the family etc. I think he has found his niche.

      • John Borstlap says:

        NY is a very oldfashioned city when classical music is concerned, and the immense contradiction to the city’s cultural profile is easily explained: audiences get fed-up with superficial modernity of old and need to get some spiritual nourishment, and not something that reminds them all too directly of the experience of the rush hour just before the concert.

        The NY critics represent the city’s cultural profile while the audience understandably wants the opposite.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    Dear Norman, please define your use of the word “choppy”.

    • John Borstlap says:

      ‘Choppy’ is comparable, in this context, with a pianist’s performance who, the day before, had handled the chainsaw too carelessly.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      Maybe it means years of negative SD coverage about Alan Gilbert’s music directorship of the NYPO. Negative coverage started from the announcement of his appointment, before he took over. It was also reflected in the choice of photographs.
      The same thing has been happening with Jaap van Zweden at the NYPO and with Bogdan Roščić at the Vienna State Opera.

      • John Borstlap says:

        JvZw has had no negative effects from negative publicity, in contrary, he is obviously a success in NY, working hard at improvement of the orchestra’s sound and with exciting programming, like the recent concert performances of Schoenberg’s ‘Erwartung’ and Bartok’s ‘Bluebeard’ which were a sensation, even with the critics.

        (NB: there is no more difficult score than ‘Erwartung’ since nothing that happens can be ‘erwartet’.)

  • Dennis says:

    He seems a rather bland and uninspired/uninspiring time-beater.

  • Emil Archambault says:

    I believe his wife is Swedish as well – a cellist in the Kungliga Filarmonikerna if I remember well. So a good match both musically and personally, and I’m happy for him and for the Royal Opera.