Alan Gilbert Renews Contract with New York Philharmonic

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Conductor Alan Gilbert has extended his contract with the New York Philharmonic, through the 2016-2017 season. He has been with the orchestra since 2009, and his initial contract was set to expire in 2014.

Gilbert’s contract extension is said to be among the first actions of Matthew VanBeisen, who became the orchestra’s executive director last month.

“I couldn’t be happier,” Gilbert told WQXR’s Jeff Spurgeon in an interview. “It’s been the most inspiring – challenging, yes – but joyous period of my musical life, these last three years. So having a five year span that I can look towards, for me it couldn’t be better and it feels like we’re really on a roll.”

Gilbert, 45, is the first native New Yorker to lead the orchestra. His tenure has been marked by several high-concept performances, including a surround-sound program at the Park Avenue Armory in June. He has also introduced a recording cycle of Carl Nielsen's works, a composer-in-residence and an annual "Contact!" contemporary-music series.

The Philharmonic did not reveal the terms of the contract, though it comes at a critical time for the organization. Like many ensembles, it must find ways to reach new audiences while keeping labor costs under control. Several key vacancies within the ensemble need to be filled, including the principal clarinet and concertmaster positions, the latter of which will open when Glenn Dicterow retires at the end of 2014.

“You’d be surprised how many inquires or expressions of interest I’ve received, both within and without the orchestra,” said Gilbert of the concertmaster post.

The Philharmonic also faces a costly and potentially disruptive renovation of its home at Avery Fisher Hall, where the acoustics have been often criticized. Gilbert said discussions are ongoing with architects and hall consultants but declined to comment on a specific plan or timeline.

Gilbert responded to music critics who have suggested that events like the Armory concert are one-off happenings and not part of the orchestra’s regular fare. “To say that because it was not in the hall or couched as a special event and that it’s somehow off to the side of what we’re doing to me doesn’t hold water,” said Gilbert. “We’ve been doing a lot of different things, one after another. You have to look at the whole picture and what we stand for."

At a time when orchestra flash mob performances circulate on YouTube, Gilbert expressed his desire to try something similar. “Sometimes there will be a pop-up store,” he noted, referring to the temporary shops set up in empty storefronts. “I’ve been kicking around the idea of pop-up concerts."

Gilbert stressed that the Philharmonic remains in relatively solid financial health. “Unfortunately, there are a lot of orchestras that aren’t doing so well," he said. "There’s a lot of labor strife, financial challenges are ubiquitous. Relatively speaking, the New York Philharmonic is sitting relatively pretty. We have amazingly generous donors and a board who believes we should take risks and really push the envelope.”

Alan Gilbert on renewing his contract: