: businessman, investor, occasional journalist
, and conductor
of Mahler's vast Second Symphony. Or is he, really?
Yes, Gilbert Kaplan only conducts
one piece of music. And it's not some simple little string symphony. It's Mahler's sprawling Symphony No. 2, requiring him to negotiate a vast orchestra, choir, soloists, and offstage brass, and he conducts it from memory. He has twice recorded the work; his 1985 Cardiff recording has become the best-selling recording of Mahler 2, outselling interpretations by such luminary conductors as Bernstein, Abbado, and Boulez. But is he any good at conducting this piece?
"That Mr. Kaplan is no professional conductor was immediately apparent." -Review in the New York Times
A "rank amateur" but one now "acknowledged as the leading technical authority on Mahler’s second symphony, consulted by many professional maestros on matters of detail." -The Economist
"Each cue was exact without a wasted gesture. His beats were about as textbook as I've ever seen from a conductor." -Phil Catelinet
Now David Finlay
, a musician in the New York Philharmonic - where Kaplan recently conducted the one piece he knows for the 100th anniversary of the work's premiere in New York - has spoken out
"I have to take extreme exception to the many reviews I have read of his performances.... Mr. Kaplan excels in ignoring the blizzard of Mahler's performance direction."
And: "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." On the day of the performance, after hours of rehearsals, members of the orchestra demanded a meeting with orchestra president Zarin Mehta and complained for an hour about Kaplan.
So has Kaplan been fooling the music world? Has he been riding on the coattails of Mahler and the American dream? Or is he truly that rare amateur who has learned a new skill at a professional level?