Video specials

Alan Gilbert in conversation with Emmanuel Pahud (11:11)

The concert

Hello, and welcome to the Berlin Philharmonic's digital concert hall. I'm Emmanuel Pahud, principal flute of the Berlin Philharmonic, and hosting here in the intermission of this concert, the conductor, Alan Gilbert. Welcome. Thanks for joining us. Now, tell us a little bit what it's been like for you coming back for this program here to Berlin. You've been here three years ago, as you stepped in for Bernard Haitink in a very short amount of time, where you were playing a Schumann symphony and a Brahms symphony. I think it was Schumann Third and Brahms' Third, is that correct?

Schumann One and Brahms' Third. It was a beautiful experience together with you. So we're happy to welcome you back. And how does that feel for you?

Well, connecting with the Berlin Philharmonic is, I think, every conductor's dream. And so when I had that chance a few years ago, in a way, the good thing was that I only had three days to prepare for it. Of course, that was also the bad thing. But emotionally, not to have to spend months worrying about it and just dive in and say, OK, let's see what happens. And hope it goes well.

That was actually probably a healthy way to have my first experience here. I loved it. I had a wonderful time. It's a marvelous orchestra. I've always enjoyed listening to the orchestra when I've heard it play. I've heard it in a couple of different cities, mostly New York, of course.

But the experience of working with the orchestra was really thrilling. Because you have the impression that when you offer something or when you ask for something, it comes back fully realized from the orchestra. So it's a very challenging orchestra in a way to conduct, but also a very easy orchestra. Because it gives much, it offers so much. And there's so much to react to.

This program, of course, is a very different kind of program. Wonderful, equally wonderful, but all Czech music. And since I had such a nice experience last time, I've enjoyed the preparation for this concert. And I've looked forward to this very much. And the rehearsals so far have been a pleasure.

I'm sure that many listeners, world wide concert goers here in Berlin in the Philharmonic, and people logging in into the digital concert hall, are wondering, why do we play a Czech program together with you? Did you choose the pieces? Have you been asked to illustrate music from Middle Europe?

Well, I like to do a huge range of music. And the Martinu symphony is a piece I've loved for a long time. And believe it or not, one of the times I did the piece recently, I thought, you know what? This would be a wonderful piece to do in Berlin. I thought, it's a perfect piece for the imagination of color and the sound sense that this orchestra has.

It happens to be a Martinu anniversary year. That's, in a way, incidental. And once we had the Martinu symphony idea basically set, then we decided to take the Czech idea and run with it. And we came up with these other pieces. Dvorak, of course, is probably the best known of the Czech composers. And the Cello Concerto is one of the most beloved.

But the later tone poems, of which the Noon Day Witch is one, are just amazing works. He really started to change his style of composing. You could say that, he was always a great composer, but he was really going into a new direction. And you can almost see how Janacek, who came after, picked up where Dvorak left off.

And these late tone poems are on metaphysical, kind of supernatural themes. The stories are unusual. And actually, this particular story is quite horrible. It's about the death of a child, in fact. But he really started to catapult, I think, Czech music into a completely new territory.

So you see, for instance in this musical illustration of the terrible story of the Noon Witch, you don't see only a purpose for writing some music that would illustrate this, but really something structural about the musical language that Dvorak used in these tone poems. And that opened a new way for Czech music.

I think that's right. It's very operatic. It's very clear what the story is about, and what the musical elements refer to. You hear this little oboe, going pe-pe-pe, and that's the child crying.

And then you can tell when the mother, who was sitting with the child, becomes stern and starts to scold the child, no, be quiet. Don't do that. And threatens the child. It's the old fashioned way of parenting. I don't think that's the way we're supposed to do it these days. And threatens the child with the Noon Witch.

If you don't shut up, the Noon Witch will come and get you. And you hear this scary, ominous music. It's very clear. You can't miss it. And then things become calm and normal, domestic again.

And the baby starts to cry again. And then you get this threat again. And then, of course, what happens is in this bizarre, romantic kind of supernatural way, the threat of the Noon Day Witch actually becomes a reality. And when the father, completely unsuspecting, comes home at the end of the piece, you can really tell that music, too.

He's just ambling along, kind of, everything is cool. Everything is normal. What he discovers is the work that the Noon Day Witch, probably representing death. But it's not really clear where reality is and where fantasy is. They become kind of mixed together. In any case, it's a pictorial-- it's a mini opera.

It's a mini opera, and a very strong piece. I'd like to hear some words from you about the two other works from the program about the Cello Concerto by Dvorak and about the Martinu Symphony no. 4. Both of them were written in the US, were written in America. You are a New Yorker. You are also from next season.

I should have claimed that. That's why we did this program, obviously, because of these pieces having been written in the States. No, not at all.

There might be something about these pieces from these emigrants, and wanting to offer the audience in the US and offer the commissioners in the US, certainly, a piece of their own life, of their own history. The Martinu Symphony no. 4 has been written, or completed, in 1945, just at the end of World War II, or just after the end of World War II.

Well, it's clearly a reaction to the war, this piece. It's also a kind of story in a symphony, very differently realized from the Dvorak tone poem. But you can hear in the first movement, I believe, a kind of carefree optimism that is shattered by the war-like second movement.

And then the third movement goes into a kind of reflective, spiritual realm. And you can feel the difficulty at the beginning of the last movement that ultimately gives way to jubilation and relief at the passing of the war. I really think that's what the symphony is about.

There's a lot of celebrations, of course, of composers, Elliott Carter's 100th anniversary. We're playing a lot of Carter in Berlin these days. It's a joint initiative of the Berlin Philharmonic and Daniel Barenboim with his Staatskapelle, also. But of course, also, Mendelssohn year. And we had Messiaen last year.

There's going to be Schumann next year, also. There's a lot going on. Then Mahler is profiling, also, lots of jubilees. But certainly, the Martinu is very important, also, to highlight, and this composer who is certainly underexposed.

I think you see a lot of programming based on anniversaries, which in a way is understandable. But it's also not the most exciting motivation, I feel. However, in the case of a composer, a master composer such as Martinu who is not as well known, and whose music is perhaps not as widely performed as it should, I think it's actually useful to take the opportunity, to take the excuse of having an anniversary to say, don't forget about this music.

And also, we came to your hall to visit [INAUDIBLE] of yourself and your orchestra in Stockholm on our last tour with the Berlin Philharmonic, when we went to the Baltic Sea for, I think it was our first tour of the Baltic Sea in the post-war years, and which allowed us to visit some countries that were not even existing at that time. But it was really a great pleasure to play in the wonderful acoustic of the hall in Stockholm. And how was that experience for you, to hear the Berlin Philharmonic coming to you?

Well, I was really happy that I was able to be at that concert. One of the things that I tried to do while I was in Stockholm-- I've finished my position there. So I'm no longer with the orchestra. But the concert hall and the orchestra are run by the same administration.

And early in the time that I was there, there were very few visiting orchestras. I think there are a number of reasons for that. But certainly, I think one thing that I tried to change and to encourage during the time I was there is the presence, the constant presence of visiting orchestras. And of course, if an orchestra such as Berlin can come, that's a privilege for the city to hear.

And also, it's nice for our orchestra as well, to have that kind of musical activity and that kind of focus on the hall where we play. And I know there were many musicians from my orchestra who were able to come to the concert. It was a great program. It was an unusual program.

I remember particularly the Webern Six Pieces, and the Stravinsky Symphony in Three Movements. It was an unusual progression. But I think it worked very well. And of course, it gave the orchestra many ways to show itself.

We now also have a residency in Carnegie Hall, where we are returning every two or three years. And that will allow us to see each other, hopefully, if you're around, also at the same time, very soon in the future, not only in Berlin but also in New York. And I hope that, knowing that you're going to be very busy in New York with the New York Philharmonic from next September, that you will find some time and visit us again.

Thank you. It's been a pleasure. And one of the nice things about building relationships with orchestras is that you start to have friends in the various orchestras. And now I think even in addition to you, I have quite a lot of people whom I can consider friends. And it will be a pleasure to meet you here or in New York or wherever.

Thanks very much. And now back to the concert for the second half of the broadcast of the Digital Concert Hall. Thank you very much.