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The Incredible Shrinking Conductor

- Abstract

In February, the New York Philharmonic announced its 2012–13 season, the orchestra’s fourth under the leadership of Alan Gilbert, whose appointment as music director was the source of much favorable press when it was announced in 2007. No such reaction greeted the news that the Philharmonic would be offering its audiences, among other things, a four-concert Bach series, the symphonies and concertos of Brahms, and a concert version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel. Outside of the usual pro forma story in the New York Times, the silence was deafening.

Even more surprising was the unenthusiastic reaction of Anthony Tommasini, chief classical music critic for the Times and one of Gilbert’s staunchest advocates. “I am somewhat disappointed,” he wrote. “Too many programs plug new works or novelties into unremarkable groupings of standard repertory. . . . Unleashing your imagination is the whole point of being a music director.”

Tommasini’s response contrasted sharply with the enthusiasm with which he and his colleagues greeted Gilbert’s appointment as the orchestra’s first New York–born music director. Virtually every music critic in town was delighted to hear that the Philharmonic would be led by a relatively young man—Gilbert was born in 1967—who was known for his performances of contemporary music. It was taken for granted that under his baton, the New York Philharmonic would—in the words of Alex Ross, music critic of the New Yorker—“put its virtuosity in the service of ideas,” and the public would be electrified by the results.

About the Author

Terry Teachout, Commentary’s critic-at-large and the drama critic of the Wall Street Journal, wrote about Meredith Willson in the last issue. Satchmo at the Waldorf, his first play, will be produced in Lenox, Mass., this August by Shakespeare & Company.