Amateur Conductor Lovin’ Mahler

January 9th, 2009 | Sources: NY Times

Subjects: ,

Gilbert Kaplan is obsessed with Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection), and that’s becoming a problem for some.

The business tycoon has studied the piece his whole life and is recognized as a leading authority on it. He owns the original manuscript and co-edited a recent edition that Vienna’s International Gustav Mahler Society points to as the official score.

Kaplan has also conducted the symphony with at least 50 orchestras around the world and recorded the work with the Vienna Philharmonic and the London Symphony Orchestra. The latter is the all-time best-selling recording of the Resurrection.

But people have a problem with the conducting part because Kaplan is an amateur who essentially willed his way onto the stage, and musicians who play for him don’t think he’s very good.

That disdain rose to a boil last month when Kaplan led the Second at the New York Philharmonic. Before the show, musicians demanded a special meeting with orchestra president Zarin Mehta and railed the whole time about Kaplan’s shortcomings.

But the matter remained more or less private until trombonist David Finlayson decided to lace into Kaplan on his blog.

“My colleagues and I gave what we could to this rudderless performance but the evening proved to be nothing more than a simplistic reading of a very wonderful piece of music,” he lamented.

Then he really got into it, belittling Kaplan’s obsession and career-odyssey as a “woefully sad farce,” subtily accusing orchestra governing bodies of supporting the folly, and hinting that an extra donation here or there might have greased the skids.

This sort of thing would seem a bit off-putting to many who exist in the genteel world of the New York Philharmonic, but Kaplan took it in stride.  “I don’t think anyone will confuse me with (music director) Lorin Maazel when it comes to technique…but I do get the results I want,” he told the New York Times.

“If some people are displeased, I can’t help it.”

Meanwhile, Times critic Steve Smith praised the Philharmonic’s performance. Smith wrote that the amateur conductor beat time and rendered cues adequately and that “his efforts were evident throughout a performance of sharp definition and shattering power.”

And the audience gave it a standing ovation.


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