Haitink / New York Philharmonic @ Avery Fisher

My “official” review is live at Classical Source, but I’m going to add a few comments here.

I can only wonder what direction the New York Philharmonic might have taken if Bernard Haitink had become the orchestra’s music director a couple of years ago.

I suspect programming would have been more conservative; the current music director, Alan Gilbert, has given brilliant performances of recent orchestral and chamber orchestra works, particularly revelatory performances of Magnus Lindberg, Gérard Grisey, and György Ligeti. The only other “big five” orchestra that had shown the Philharmonic’s programmatic daring with contemporary works was the Boston Symphony under James Levine. Regular readers of this blog and my reviews at Classical Source know I’ve often been very critical of Gilbert, though I’ve also seen some sizable improvement over the two-plus years he’s been the Philharmonic’s music director. Multiple sources have told me that members of the orchestra are divided on Gilbert, whose musical direction has prompted the premature retirement of at least one prominent player. It would not surprise me if he were to step down at the end of his contract period, and that may not necessarily be such a good thing overall for the orchestra’s programming.

On the other hand, seeing venerable “old pro” Haitink summoning forth world class playing from the Philharmonic — and more committed, exciting playing than I ever saw him get from the Chicago Symphony — makes me wonder if he might be the right man a few years before the right time. If the orchestra’s management and patrons were even half as impressed as I was, they may well be thinking the same thing.

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