In the coming weeks, three guest conductors who could hardly be more different in temperament take the helm of the Philharmoniker: Alan Gilbert, Marek Janowski and Yannick Nézet-Séguin. What they all have in common is that their collaboration with the orchestra has intensified more and more in recent years.
From New York to the Elbe
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 facing him as a conductor is how to strike a balance between the overall architecture and the details of a composition. Only then is it possible to make the music really 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. "As a result of this, a very special kind of group energy is created." In his concert programs, he likes to include composers and works that are rarely performed in concerts, such as Bohuslav Martinů's Fourth Symphony, Leoš Janáček's violin concerto Putování dušičky (The Wandering of a Little Soul), Magnus Lindberg's composition Kraft or pieces by his fellow American John Adams. During his last visit, Alan Gilbert, who from 2009 to 2017 was the first New Yorker to lead the New York Philharmonic and from 2019 is the head of the NDR Elbphilharmonie orchestra, conducted works by Thomas Adès and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart plus Claude Debussy's Images pour orchestre. It was an evening full of high tension. According to the Berliner Zeitung, Gilbert knew “how to unfold the music with both power and subtlety”. On this occasion too, he will conduct an unusual programme with the European premiere of Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s Metacosmo, Sergei Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto with Lisa Batiashvili as the soloist, and Richard Strauss’ Symphonia domestica.
Marek Janowski, who was born in Warsaw and grew up in Germany, is associated in the minds of Berlin audiences with one orchestra in particular: the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, whose chief conductor he was between was between 2002-2016. Less well-known, however, is his work together with the Berliner Philharmoniker, with whom Janowski made his debut in 1976 at the age of 37. The then chief conductor of the Dortmunder Philharmoniker introduced himself as a compelling interpreter of the First Viennese School and German Romanticism with works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Carl Mariavon Weber and Felix Mendelssohn. Until the mid-1990s, his concert programmes focused predominantly on the Classical-Romantic repertoire. After a break of more than 20 years, Marek Janowski returned to the Philharmoniker in 2017 and conducted performances of Giuseppe Verdi’s Messa da Requiem, standing in for an indisposed Riccardo Chailly. Only a few months later, he impressed audiences and press alike with three orchestral preludes from Hans Pfitzner’s opera Palestrina and Anton Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony, whose monumental architectonics and contrasting moods he knew how to make both touching and effective. This season, he returns to conduct Bruckner: he will perform the Sixth, which the composer described as his “boldest” symphony, plus the E minor Mass, whose orchestration, consisting entirely of wind instruments, evokes a uniquely archaic atmosphere.
A rising star
The 43-year-old Yannick Nézet-Séguin can already look back on a remarkable career: born in Canada, and a pupil of Carlo Maria Giulinis, he has been music director of the Metropolitan Opera New York since the beginning of this season; moreover, since 2012 he has been head of the Philadelphia Orchestra and artistic director and principal conductor of the Orchestre Métropolitain in Montreal since 2000. The young conductor also receives regular invitations to appear with international orchestras such as the Vienna Philharmonic, the Staatskapelle Dresden, the Orchestre National de France and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, as well as at major opera houses such as Covent Garden in London and La Scala in Milan. He introduced himself at the Berlin Philharmonie on 21 October 2010 with works by Olivier Messiaen, Sergei Prokofiev and Hector Berlioz. Like Alan Gilbert, he has shown a penchant for unusual programming in his performances with the Philharmoniker: for example, at his last appearance in October 2017, he juxtaposed Johannes Brahms’ Deutsches Requiem with the cantata Heilig by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. His next programme is composed of Maurice Ravel’s Menuet antique, Claude Debussy’s La Mer and Sergei Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony. The great appreciation the Philharmoniker show for him is also demonstrated by the fact that Yannick Nézet-Séguin then goes on a short tour with the orchestra to Hamburg, Wrocław, Katowice and Paris. As the conductor revealed in an interview for the Digital Concert Hall, he is very happy about the collaboration with the orchestra: “I feel there is a certain level of trust we have together. I think that is the most beautiful thing to treasure and go deeper and deeper into the music when we know each other.”