A Day in the Life

by Alan Gilbert

I am not going to introduce this blog with a portentous statement about what it means to be a music director today. This isn’t going to be a philosophical platform. Rather, I think that people might be interested in going behind the scenes, to know what I imagine many would find to be an unexpected range of items that cross my desk as music director. The job requires what I think is an unusual attention to a range of issues. It’s not just a question of having the skill to deal with the issues – you have to see which areas actually are “areas,” because you can’t deal with something until you understand that it has to be dealt with. I am looking forward to sharing random, perhaps even haphazard, musings on the great variety of topics that I have the pleasure and, it turns out, the surprise of addressing in the regular course of my work as the New York Philharmonic’s 25th music director.

To kick things off I thought I might simply list what I accomplished – or tried to accomplish – in one specific day. Here is a partial summary of my agenda on Friday, September 17, the last day of the last week before the opening of my second season with this orchestra:

After dropping my son off at pre-Kindergarten, I …

  • • spoke with Larry Tarlow, the Principal Librarian, asking him when I could expect the final installment of Wynton Marsalis’s revision of his piece that we are performing on Opening Night (September 22),
  • • studied Dutilleux’s Métaboles (which I am conducting on the first subscription program of the season) for about 45 minutes, and
  • • had a conversation with Eric Latzky, our V.P. of Communications, in preparation for a wrap-up of the Ligeti Grand Macabre project we performed last May, for a video taping later in the day for the League-formerly-known-as-ASOL.
  • • Then I went and did the taping, which was an hour and a half in which I and others discussed Grand Macabre for what the League is using as an educational tool to help orchestras understand why we did such a project, how we approached it, what made it such a success, what we learned about doing this kind of project in general, and what we learned about how we function as an institution approaching such a new area.
  • • Afterward I had a business lunch that involved discussions about our tour to Europe in October.
  • • When I came back, I found the revised score for Wynton’s piece on my desk, and checked with the library to see how different it was from the last version I’d received.
  • • I flipped through the score as I scrambled to prepare for a meeting I was going to have with Wynton later in the day.
  • • I spent time with David Snead, our V.P. of Marketing, talking about how we are going to promote Kraft, an ambitious work by Magnus Lindberg that we will be performing in early October.
  • • Then I sat down with Monica Parks, our Director of Publications, to talk over ideas for this blog.

I’ll stop this recitation here, even before my meeting with Wynton, and only say that when I was in high school and first imagined what the Music Director of the New York Philharmonic would do, it never in my wildest dreams occurred to me that it wasn’t just studying the music and showing up for rehearsals and concerts. I would love to be able to spend three hours, if not more, immersed in studying a score, and it is very rare that I can do so, and there can be frustration when it’s impossible to carry something through to its logical conclusion. I am not complaining about the seeming interruptions and distractions. I feel lucky to have a job that calls on different capacities and is never boring – not for one second – and I find all the items that cross my agenda engaging, challenging, and fascinating. And I certainly would never say or assume that any or all of these details are more compelling than those that arise during your own work day; I just feel that they are idiosyncratically connected with being a music director in an American orchestra operating at the beginning of the 21st century, so I hope that they might be of interest to you.

See you soon … I’ve got to read my kids a bedtime story.

(For more information on Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic, visit nyphil.org.)


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