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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris. Alan Gilbert is one of classical music's up and coming conductors. Not yet 40, he's led major symphony orchestras and opera companies around the world. Tonight he takes up the baton with the New York Philharmonic. It's a group he grew up with. His father played violin there for 30 years and his mother is still playing with orchestra. Jeff Lunden reports.

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JEFF LUNDEN: The New York Philharmonic has the reputation as both one of the finest and one of the most demanding orchestras around. And if they don't like a conductor, they can make life difficult.

Zarin Mehta, the Philharmonic's executive director, says Alan Gilbert's got the goods.

Mr. ZARIN MEHTA (Executive Director, New York Philharmonic Orchestra): For him to have succeeded and to talk to this group of superb musicians as the conductor, having known him from that early age, that I think perhaps impressed me more. I think we have say that he has gone way past the fact that he's part of the family. We love him, but he's here as a conductor.

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LUNDEN: Alan Gilbert has been a regular guest conductor of the New York Philharmonic since 2001. But some members of the orchestra remember him from a long time earlier, like bass player John Deak(ph).

Mr. JOHN DEAK (Principal Bass Player, New York Philharmonic Orchestra): I was best of friends with his dad and his mom also in 1969. And Alan must have been about two years old. He was a toddler then, for sure. And I remember him playing on the floor.

LUNDEN: Gilbert is fond of memories of growing up with the orchestra at Lincoln Center and on tour.

Mr. ALAN GILBERT (Conductor): People even playing today remember when I was the, I don't know, call it the little orchestra brat, and I would accompany the orchestra on tours and I knew everybody's name, so I would help hand passports out, things like that, and played Mattel electronic football with Roland Koloff, the timpani player.

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LUNDEN: To call Alan Gilbert's family musical is something of an understatement. His younger sister is the concert master of the National Orchestra of Lyon in France. And Gilbert is such a fine violinist he was hired as a substitute in the Philadelphia Orchestra while he studied conducting at the Curtis Institute of Music.

Mr. GILBERT: As it turned out, I played almost every week for a year, which was a fantastic experience, and actually that was one of the best things about the whole Philadelphia experience that could have happened to my conducting development, aside from being fun in and of itself.

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LUNDEN: Gilbert still sometimes picks up the violin, but it's his conducting career that's been on the rise. He guest conducts with many major symphonies in the States and abroad, like this performance of Brahm's 4th with the Atlanta Symphony. He is chief conductor of the Royal Stockholm Orchestra. And he served as music director of the Santa Fe Opera.

Mr. GILBERT: One of the great things about being a musician is that you deal with people in such a direct and profound way. You also get to deal with so many different people. I always think of what Leonard Bernstein said: One of the two things I love most are music and people and actually they are the same. And there's some beautiful truth to that.

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LUNDEN: Irene Breslaw has played viola with the New York Philharmonic since 1976 and has known Alan Gilbert since he was nine.

Ms. IRENE BRESLAW (Viola Player, New York Philharmonic Orchestra): Alan comes with an extraordinary amount of intellect on top of the musicality. And he's a nice guy. So he's got all of the elements for making a rehearsal an enjoyable experience.

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LUNDEN: Gilbert's first rehearsal with the New York Philharmonic has become something of a legend, says his mother, Yoko Takabe, who was playing a solo in the first violin section that day.

Ms. YOKO TAKABE (Violinist): And in the rehearsal I made a mistake, so he had us just go over that part, and then he stopped, took a moment and said, Mom. That timing was really. It was funny to me also, even though I was put on the stop.

LUNDEN: Gilbert's rehearsals are easygoing but focused. He says he can take weeks or months studying a piece of music, listening to it in his head, playing parts on the piano, absorbing it.

Mr. GILBERT: Eventually what I look for is the sense that when I open the page, any page, anywhere, I immediately get a reaction, and I have a point to view about what the feeling is at that moment, what the tempo is, you know, the character that I'll be going for. And until I get to the point where literally any page I open to provokes that kind of reaction, I feel like I'm not ready.

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LUNDEN: The New York Philharmonic thinks he's ready. They've signed him to a three-year deal as a regular guest conductor. Gilbert says he's happy to settle in with the orchestra.

Mr. GILBERT: There's something utterly normal about the working relationship. And of course I can't forget that my mother is sitting over there to my left in the section, and presumably the other people in orchestra can't forget that either. But on the other hand, we've gotten to the point, it's just work, and I mean that in the best sense.

LUNDEN: And that work continues tonight when Alan Gilbert will conduct a program of Bach, Ligeti and Schumann with the New York Philharmonic.

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LUNDEN: For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

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