Alan Gilbert and the NY Phil play Mahler’s 6th Symphony at the end of this month. This short Q&A on the subject comes courtesy of 21C Media Group.
Question: You’ve described the Sixth as possibly your favorite of Mahler’s symphonies. Why?
Alan Gilbert: It’s a very, very pessimistic work that paints a very realistic picture of life’s ups and downs and the search for happiness and meaning. For the particular protagonist in the Sixth Symphony it ends in utter despair, and without hope, which is quite rare in music and art. Usually there is some shred of optimism left! But this piece ends in utter devastation. That’s not what I like about the piece, of course! But the work is such a statement, and is such a powerful expression of life’s experiences; it is an important and indisputably great work.
Q: You’ve already performed the First and Third Symphonies with the New York Philharmonic, and will play the Sixth this week. Later in the season you’ll also do the Fifth. Are you hoping to do all of the Mahler symphonies at some point with the orchestra?
AG: Not necessarily. I don’t feel a burning need to do all of them, but I adore the music and it might make sense to do all of them eventually.
Q: Mahler himself led the New York Philharmonic, and the orchestra has long had a reputation for being a great Mahler orchestra. What are the special qualities that the New York Philharmonic brings to a Mahler performance?
AG: The orchestra really understands the feeling of this music; the general pathos and depth of “Mahler character” is something that they feel intuitively. Growing up, I heard some great performances by this orchestra led by Leonard Bernstein and Zubin Mehta. The orchestra really has this music in its blood.
Q: You’re doing Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder with the orchestra in January with soloist Thomas Hampson. You’ve worked with Hampson a lot, and this summer you performed Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde with him and the NDR Symphony. Hampson is widely regarded as one of the greatest interpreters of Mahler songs. What qualities does he bring to the music?
AG: Tom has an intuitive understanding of the style. His way with the text is really profound. I had never done Das Lied with a baritone before, but after hearing him do it, that’s how I would like to hear this piece!