Classical Album of the Week

Classical Album of the Week

This week’s Classical Album finds a world-renowned orchestra and its chief-conductor venerating a 150-year-old Dane.

Carl Nielsen is little Denmark’s big national composer. Though celebrated in his time, the appreciation of his music has only grown in recent years.

With his 150th birthday approaching in June, TIDAL has several Nielsen-lauding activities planned in the coming year. We start off with the third album of Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic’s recordings of Nielsen’s six symphonies. The first four have already been published as part of ‘The Nielsen Project’ and on this album they perform his 5th and 6th.

We had opportunity to catch up with maestro Alan Gilbert, where we talked about his relationship with Nielsen’s music, his favorite Nielsen works and how he sees the development of the classical music in the coming years.

Your recordings of the Carl Nielsen symphonies have certainly helped bring his music to an international audience. What fascinates you about his work?

Now that we’ve performed the complete cycle, what fascinates me is how Nielsen develops over the course of his life. Nielsen already sounds like Nielsen in his first symphony, but by Symphonies No. 4 through 6 he is saying so much more about life. There is a late-Beethoven quality in the Sixth that allows him to speak in a simple, almost naive, voice that at the same time reflects a knowledge that only experience can bring.

Nielsen is, of course, a household name in his native Denmark and his songs are sung and loved by almost everyone – young or old, in school or church. What is it, in your opinion, that makes his music so special?

What interests me, now that I’ve experienced so much of it, is how he weds traditional form with a unique stream-of-consciousness quality. Its structure reflects classical musical forms, but, as one can expect from his music, [the listener] feels as if they are walking through life, with circumstances presenting themselves almost randomly — just as in life itself. This duality of predictable musical forms and the evocation of life§s unpredictable nature lies at the core of the uniquely Nielsen quality in his music.

What is your favorite piece of music by Nielsen?

Happily I find it impossible to answer this question because there are so many that I love. I will say that I have become very fond of the Sixth Symphony, but that I also really loved doing the Helios Overture. The Clarinet Concerto also holds a special place for me.

You have previously said, ‘Nielsen’s time has come!’ Could you elaborate on that?

There is no reason why Nielsen should not be accepted as a true member of the recognized symphonic canon. His music is eminently graspable even on the first hearing, and it is written in a language that most people already understand and love, but his personal and quirky qualities make him stand out and give him a rightful place amongst the masters of symphonic music.

How do you see the beautiful world of classical music developing in the coming years?

I’d like to answer in this way: there will always be a place for great orchestras to play great music. The challenge will be to stay relevant and adapt to the changing world in terms of the nature of how people look for and find entertainment. My prediction is that the orchestras that are successful will be the ones that accept change while staying true to the core of what orchestras are really about.

If you had to bring three pieces of music to a desert island, which would it be?

Bach’s Mass in B minor, Schubert’s C-major String Quintet, Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. At least that’s my answer today.

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