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Classical music

Alan Gilbert, New York Phil conductor Jaap van Zweden is succeeding, to lead Hamburg's ambitious orchestra

New Yorker, previously principal guest conductor of NDR Elbphilharmonie, couldn’t turn down offer from orchestra he sees as ‘the most inspired, ambitious and forward-looking’

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 June, 2017, 6:03pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 June, 2017, 5:54pm

The New York Philharmonic’s outgoing music director, Alan Gilbert, is to lead the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra in Hamburg, Germany, whose ambitions are rising with a landmark new building.

Gilbert, whose eight-year tenure at the pre-eminent US orchestra has been marked by explorations of new work and growing global outreach, will become chief conductor of the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra later this year, it said.

The announcement comes months after the opening of the Elbphilharmonie, a glassy, acoustically cutting-edge concert house on the Elbe River with sweeping views of Germany’s second largest city.

With a roof that resembles waves, the “Elphie” has raised hopes of becoming a modern cultural symbol of Germany akin to the Sydney Opera House.

Gilbert said he had not been seeking a new position so quickly but considered the management of the orchestra, where he was previously the principal guest conductor, to be “the most inspired, ambitious and forward-looking in the world of music”.

“How rare it is to find a situation in which it is not only possible to imagine pushing the paradigm of orchestras in the 21st century forward, but one in which all constituent groups are demanding that this progress happen,” he said in a statement.

Gilbert will succeed fellow violinist Thomas Hengelbrock as chief conductor of the ensemble, known until recently as the NDR Symphony Orchestra before changing its name to reflect the building.

He will make his debut as chief conductor in April when he leads Mahler’s Fifth Symphony and will have input in selecting programming starting with the 2019-20 season.

Gilbert is being succeeded at the New York Philharmonic by Jaap van Zweden, music director of the Hong Kong Philharmonic.

Achim Dobschall, manager of the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra, said Gilbert stood out for his versatility in leading works both from the 20th century and the classical canon.

“By comparison with almost every other conductor of our times, Alan Gilbert’s repertoire is unmatched in terms of its scope and stylistic spectrum,” Dobschall said.

Gilbert, 50, was the first locally born music director of the New York Philharmonic. His two parents were also violinists.

For his final series at the Lincoln Centre in New York, Gilbert aimed to show music’s universality by inviting players from 24 countries – some with sour political relations with one another – and reaching outside the Western classical tradition.