Alan Gilbert and Christian Thielemann

At the conductor’s desk of the Berliner Philharmoniker

Christian Thielemann
(Photo: Matthias Creutzinger)

Before Sir Simon Rattle says farewell to the old year with a Wagner programme and the traditional New Year’s Eve concert, another two esteemed guests take their place at the conductor’s desk of the Berliner Philharmoniker: Alan Gilbert and Christian Thielemann.

The man from New York

Since Alan Gilbert stepped in at short notice for an indisposed Bernard Haitink in February 2006, the native New Yorker has been one of the orchestra’s regular guests. As he revealed in an interview for the Digital Concert Hall, the biggest challenge for him as a conductor is to create a balance between the architecture as a whole and the details of a composition. Only then is it possible to really make the music flow. What fascinates him about the Berliner Philharmoniker is that each musician has the character of a soloist who nevertheless manages to merge seamlessly with the overall sound. “It is about creating a kind of group energy.” In the concert programmes which he has already conducted with the Philharmoniker, works by Czech composers have played an important role: Antonín Dvořák’s Cello Concerto and his symphonic poem The Noon Witch, Bohuslav Martinů’s Fourth Symphony and Leoš Janáček’s Violin Concerto Putování dušičky (The Wandering of a Little Soul). For his last visit, he turned to other symphonic regions, conducting Felix Mendelssohn’s “Scottish” and Carl Nielsen’s Third Symphony. For his upcoming guest appearance, Alan Gilbert, who in 2009 became the first New Yorker to head the New York Philharmonic, will conduct two works by his fellow countryman John Adams, the orchestra’s current Composer in Residence: Short Ride in a Fast Machine and Lollapalooza for orchestra. Further items on the programme include Béla Bartók’s Violin Concerto with Frank Peter Zimmermann as the soloist, and Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony.

Christian Thielemann – a Philharmoniker fan from the outset

Christian Thielemann's relationship with the Berliner Philharmoniker began long before he made his conducting debut with the orchestra in June 1996: The dark, velvety sound of the Philharmoniker impressed the native Berliner from an early age – as did the two chief conductors Wilhelm Furtwängler and Herbert von Karajan, whose sense of sound had a lasting influence on Thielemann. He was also much inspired during his time as a student of the Orchestra Academy where he studied viola and was an assistant to Herbert von Karajan. So when the young conductor – then the music director designate of the Deutsche Oper Berlin – made his debut with the Philharmoniker, he was very much rooted in the tradition of the orchestra. Following this debut, the press hailed him as “highly emotional, young and spirited”. In the following years, an intensive partnership developed between the Berliner Philharmoniker and the young conductor. “I feel completely at home here,” as he admitted in a Digital Concert Hall interview. “To return again and again to one orchestra makes the job much easier.” From the beginning of his career, Christian Thielemann, currently chief conductor of the Dresden Staatskapelle and with ties to the Salzburg Easter Festival and Bayreuth, has shown a preference for the German Romantic repertoire. This is also demonstrated in his concert programmes with the orchestra: Felix Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, Anton Bruckner and in particular, Richard Strauss. In December 2016, he conducts two series of concerts: in the first, he presents Sofia Gubaidulina’s violin concerto In tempus praesens with Gidon Kremer as the soloist, plus Anton Bruckner’s Mass in F minor. In the second, he conducts Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 (soloist: Rudolf Buchbinder) and Anton Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony – all works which Thielmann has never performed with the Philharmoniker before.

Alan Gilbert
(Photo: Chris Lee)

The conductors in the Digital Concert Hall