Alan Gilbert, Paavo Järvi and Tugan Sokhiev

At the conductor’s desk of the Berliner Philharmoniker

Alan Gilbert
(Photo: Peter Hundert)

This spring is the season for guest conductors. Before Sir Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker conclude the season with a series of concerts and the traditional Waldbühne concert, there are still four respected guest conductors at the podium: After Daniel Harding, an interview with whom can be read on our website, Alan Gilbert, Paavo Järvi and Tugan Sokhiev all come to the Berliner Philharmoniker.

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. “This creates a very special 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 symphonic poem The Noon Witch and his Cello Concerto, Bohuslav Martinů’s Fourth Symphony and Leoš Janáček’s Violin Concerto Putování dušičky (The Wandering of a Little Soul). On his most recent visit, he turned to other symphonic regions and conducted two works by his fellow American John Adams, 2016/2017 composer in residence, plus Béla Bartók’s Violin Concerto with Peter Zimmermann as the soloist and Piotr Illych Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony. This time around, Alan Gilbert, who was chief of the New York Philharmonic from 2009 to 2017 and takes over the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra from 2019, presents Thomas Adès’ Three Studies from Couperin, plus Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto with the Philharmoniker’s principal clarinettist Wenzel Fuchs and Claude Debussy’s Images pour orchestre.

A family of conductors

“I grew up with recordings of the Berliner Philharmoniker. We listened to them almost every day,” said Paavo Järvi in an interview for the Digital Concert Hall. It is no surprise that native Estonian comes from a famous family of musicians: both his father Neeme and brother Kristjan are also conductors. Paavo Järvi, currently head of the Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, the NHK Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo and the Estonia Festival Orchestra as well as principal conductor and artistic director designate of the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich, made his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker in 2000 at the age of 38. “If I had known then what I know today, I would not have agreed,” he confides with a smile. In recent years, the collaboration between orchestra and conductor has intensified. This season, the Estonian will conduct the traditional European concert on 1 May which this year takes place in the Margravial Opera House in Bayreuth. He then makes a guest appearance in Berlin, in which in addition to a tone poem and the Violin Concerto by Jean Sibelius (soloist: Janine Jansen), he has also programmed Shostakovich’s Sixth Symphony, a musical reflection on the Stalin era.

Conductor of the Russian school

The 40-year-old Tugan Sokhiev is one of the shooting stars of his generation. He leads two renowned orchestras: the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse and the orchestra of the Bolshoi Theatre. From 2012 to 2016, he was also artistic director of the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin. In the concerts he has given since his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker in January 2010, his programmes have mostly included a delightful mix of French and Russian music. His most recent performance testifies to this: it included César Franck’s Le Chasseur maudit, Sergei Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a theme by Paganini for piano and orchestra (soloist: Nikolai Lugansky) and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Symphonic Suite Scheherazade. On this occasion, he will present a work by Ludwig van Beethoven with the Berliner Philharmoniker for the first time, his Third Piano Concerto with Yefim Bronfman as the soloist. In addition, he will conduct two popular compositions from the Russian repertoire: Sergei Prokofiev’s Symphonie classique and Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures from an Exhibition. Born in north Ossetian, not only his repertoire but also his conducting style is rooted in the Russian tradition. Tugan Sokhiev is a student of the legendary Ilya Musin: “That was the greatest good fortune that ever happened to me. Musin was already in his early 90s, but he was tremendous. Everything has changed since I was with him and I would not be here at all today if I had not studied with him.”

Paavo Järvi
(Photo: Kaupo Kikkas)
Tugan Sokhiev
(Photo: Marco Borggreve)

Listen to the music!

The conductors in the Digital Concert Hall