The New York Philharmonic, under the baton of of music director Alan Gilbert, performed Sunday, May 13, on the first of a two-night stand at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco, and the thundering applause at the close of its encore performance of Bernstein's "Lonely Town: Pas de deux from On the Town" said it all.
The concert was part of a tour of six California cities and, remarkably, the first US tour for the venerable New York Phil since Gilbert took the reins three years ago.
After a May 9 concert at Disney Hall—the New York Philharmonic is the last great symphony to make a pilgrimage to that glistening Southern California shrine to the arts—the LA Times concluded: "Gilbert has the reputation of being a thoughtful, capable, cautious conductor, not a firebrand. He is clearly out to change that."
Such was the case Sunday night in San Francisco as well.
Gilbert, an accomplished violinist, violist, and pianist who began his career more than a decade as an assistant conductor at the LA Phil, is often overshadowed in the media by the charismatic, effervescent Gustavo Dudamel, who is in his second season with the LA Phil.
Last week, SF Classical Voice ran a feature article by New York Times arts critic John Rockwell in anticipation of the NY Phil's then–impending visit, lamenting that Gilbert lacks pizzazz—"Alan Gilbert: Where's the Excitement?, read one headline.
He may not have the same compelling back story as media-darling Dudamel—Gilbert grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and his parents were violinists with the New York Phil; Dudamel was raised on the mean streets of Caracas and learned violin in Venezuela's El Sistema program for underprivileged kids. But on the podium, he is no less driven and arguably much more in command.
On Sunday night, Gilbert displayed none of the wild abandon that drives Dudamel's performances nor did he display any hint of the icy coolness that surrounds Michael Tilson Thomas with the San Francisco Symphony.
Rather, this master of dynamics encouraged the players to dig deep, delivering a profound level of emotion during a flawless, inspired performance.
He was very animated, very much in command, and very exciting (sorry, Mr. Rockwell).
He showed power, precision, and presence, affirming why he is qualified to stand in the shoes of Gustav Mahler, Arturo Toscanini, Bruno Walter, Pierre Boulez, Zubin Mehta, Kurt Mazur, Lorin Maazel, and the other past music directors.
On Sunday, May 13, the New York Philharmonic was quite simply the best in the west.
On May 15, the New York Philharmonic is scheduled to perform in San Diego.
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