Friday, June 26, 2009

The end of an era at the NY Philharmonic

I have tickets to tonight's New York Philharmonic performance of Mahler's 8th Symphony. 18 months ago the orchestra announced its schedule for 2008-09, Lorin Maazel's final season as music director. When I saw that Mahler's 8th was the last work he would conduct in that role, I couldn't get my subscription tickets ordered quickly enough. Of course, I want to be there for the spectacle that is Mahler's largest symphony (by the number of musicians involved -- this work is informally known as the "symphony of a thousand"). I also want to be there for Maazel's last weekend in his role as music director.

When the Philharmonic chose Maazel as their music director in 2002, I was surprised and a little disappointed. With all due respect to Maazel, they picked him to replace Kurt Masur, so it was a change of one older conductor for another. I had hoped that the orchestra would choose a younger music director, and I saw Maazel's appointment as one of "caretaker" of the orchestra. And as at least one classical music writer noted, Maazel has been just that in his seven-year tenure. I don't agree with the notion that an American orchestra has to "stand" for something. In Maazel's case, I think the Philharmonic hired him in part because they didn't want to have an agenda. The agenda, if there was one, was 'steady as she goes.' I've always enjoyed Maazel's work at the podium. I am continually impressed at his ability to conduct large works without a score, and for a man of his age he is energetic and enthusiastic. The musicians adore him and their feelings show in the music they produce for him. All of his concerts have been excellent musically, and some of them have been utterly thrilling. I'm really excited he's leading the orchestra tonight, and I'll miss him when he's gone.

But the most captivating Philharmonic performances I've seen this past year have been with younger conductors leading the orchestra. Gustavo Dudamel's Mahler 5 in January was incredible. And Alan Gilbert's two concerts with the orchestra in May showed that the Philharmonic will be in great hands when he takes over as music director this fall. In choosing Gilbert to lead the Philharmonic, I think the orchestra implied that they want to go in a different direction. I can't wait to see where he leads them.

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