Friday, December 19, 2008

The Kaplan - NY Philharmonic story gets more interesting

A Google alert in my mailbox pointed me to this Metafilter post about Gilbert Kaplan. At first I was excited -- someone read my blog and quoted it! -- but then I read the post. Since I am on the record as not being a regular reader of the New York Times, I missed this article this past Tuesday that discusses the New York Philharmonic's dissatisfaction with Kaplan's performance with the orchestra. On the day of the historic performance I attended on December 8, the musicians met with the Philharmonic's president and complained about Kaplan's conducting. The Times article and the Metafilter post linked to the blog of David Finlayson, a trombonist in the Philharmonic, who wrote a long post critical of Kaplan. What I saw as "textbook" conducting gestures and a lack of overexpressive motion the musicians saw as an inability to shape phrases or give dynamic changes. Finlayson pointed out that Kaplan had trouble keeping the beat in one section and asked the orchestra to help him. Kaplan acknowledged the orchestra's comments and said that "if some people are displeased, I can't help it." According to the Times, the Philharmonic won't invite him back, and Kaplan wasn't expecting a return engagement. The December 8 concert was a special occasion.

Even in light of these stories, I'm not going to take back my comments about the performance that night. I love Mahler's 2nd Symphony, and I think Kaplan did an excellent job leading the orchestra through it. It was a performance that I'm going to remember for many, many years. I bought Kaplan's 2003 recording of the symphony, partly because of his story, but also because of his edition of the work with his corrections. But I don't think I'll seek out a Kaplan-led concert in the future, because I've already heard him conduct this piece and he doesn't conduct anything else. As for my quote in the Metafilter post, I meant it as a compliment. I see too many conductors whose gestures are unclear and muddled, and I prefer to see a clear beat over expressive emotional gestures.

I sympathize with the Philharmonic's musicians. I can see why they are upset. No one wants to be used for the gratification of someone else's ego. But I think the Philharmonic made the right choice for the concert. Kaplan is an expert on Mahler's 2nd, he's a well-known name in the music world, and he's got a compelling story (albeit, one that's only possible because of his immense wealth). I'm sure the Philharmonic considered other conductors with connections to the orchestra's past, and they chose Kaplan. It would have been a rousing concert with anyone on the podium. I still think Kaplan acquitted himself well, and I'm glad I was there that night.

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