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Top conductor creates UN of orchestras

China Daily | Updated: 2017-06-16 07:55

NEW YORK - In his eight years leading the New York Philharmonic, Alan Gilbert has witnessed the power of music to connect cultures - and watched as political strife consumes much of the world.

Closing his tenure in one of classical music's most prestigious positions, Gilbert is planning a next chapter by creating a sort of United Nations of orchestras.

Dubbed Musicians for Unity, Gilbert envisions a group of artists from around the world who can come together at short notice.

The musicians will "play concerts that express hope for peace and cooperation and shared humanity," he said.

Gilbert experimented with the idea last week as he led his last series at the Philharmonic's home in Lincoln Center.

At his invitation, the orchestra was joined by musicians from 24 countries that often don't get along, such as the United States, China, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Russia and Venezuela.

If the project sounds utopian, Gilbert is clear-eyed about the limits. He recalled that the New York Philharmonic in 2008 played a landmark concert in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Yet Gilbert acknowledged that tensions surrounding the country have grown since.

Still, Gilbert believes that music can only be a positive force in a world where conventional diplomacy can come up short.

"I do think that in this day, the talking is not exactly working," Gilbert said.

"Even though it's an age-old cliche, music's capacity to communicate without words is really unparalleled," he said.

Plans for Musicians for Unity - including how it will secure funding - are still in their infancy, but Gilbert envisions starting modestly with two to three concerts a year.

Occasions could include a concert in 2018 to mark the centennial of the birth of anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela.

Gilbert on Tuesday began to guide the Philharmonic in a series of free concerts across all five New York boroughs, presenting well-known works including Dvorak's New World Symphony.

Yet for his final series at Lincoln Center, Gilbert made eclectic selections including a piece by Kinan Azmeh, the Syrian-born clarinetist who marries Arabic and Western classical music.

Guests included Yo-Yo Ma, the celebrated cellist who has tried to find musical commonalities across cultures with his Silk Road Ensemble.

Gilbert hoped Musicians for Unity would both present the Western canon and explore music from other traditions.

"I think Bach is definitely universal and to play a Beethoven symphony can be a powerful experience for anybody anywhere," he said.

"I certainly don't see it as any cultural imperialism," he said. "But I'm personally also very interested in learning about other classical musics, as Yo-Yo refers to it."

Agence France-presse

 Top conductor creates UN of orchestras

Conductor Alan Gilbert leads the New York Philharmonic in a free concert in New York's Central Park on Wednesday.Angela Weiss / Agence Francepresse

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