Behind the Music

Photo: AP/WideWorld Photo

On September 18, you’re taking the reins of the New York Philharmonic. And 60 years ago, nearly to the day, you made your conducting debut there as an 11-year-old prodigy. Do you feel like you were destined for the job?
Amazing – I never thought of that – you’re the first person to bring it to my attention. I used to dream of becoming music director of the New York Philharmonic. When I was disgruntled with the world, I’d say, “You’ll see! One day!”

Some critics complain that you might have trouble attracting a younger audience because you stick to the Middle European repertory and don’t commission enough new work.
Paying lip service to a fad or what you perceive to be a need is counterproductive. If you’re going to commission new works, you look at a composer’s track record, but then you must also be able to connect yourself to the piece. If we do a piece, it will be because I believe in it. We’re starting out with John Adams and Ludwig von Beethoven – I think that says it all.

The Adams piece, “On the Transmigration of Souls,” was written to commemorate the September 11 attacks.Is music up to that task?
Healing comes through the release of emotions that only music can achieve. Music has no end. You can cut it off arbitrarily, but it’s still floating on some plane. It’s there in memory, incredibly in one’s dreams. It means continuity, hope – survival.

How do you feel about the plans to tear down Avery Fisher Hall and build a new one? Does the Phil really need a new auditorium?
It’s not just the acoustics, it’s also the feeling of the hall. It’s not intimate, not warm. It doesn’t have the dignity and timelessness of the great halls of Europe or of Carnegie Hall. A superb orchestra like this needs the finest concert hall in the world, and that it doesn’t have – so why not go for it?

What about your own composing? Your opera based on Orwell’s 1984 is scheduled to premiere in 2005, and we hear you once considered doing a Broadway musical.
I haven’t lost that idea, and I think I have a subject, but I just don’t have the time. Had it not been for this appointment, I probably would have written it. So you’ve been saved from yet another bad musical by the New York Philharmonic.

New York Philharmonic
Season begins September 18.

Behind the Music