While in high school, Gelb began his association with the Metropolitan Opera as a part-time usher. Having started in the arts management world at 17 as office boy to Sol Hurok, Gelb himself became manager of Vladimir Horowitz during the last phase of Horowitz's career. In 1978 he began work as an assistant in the Boston Symphony Orchestra press office.
Gelb joined Ronald Wilford's Columbia Artists Management (CAMI) organization in 1981, making short films about classical musicians. Back at the Metropolitan Opera, he served as executive producer of "The Metropolitan Presents", the Met's series of televised opera broadcasts, for six years starting in 1988.
Career at Sony Classical
In 1993 Gelb became head of Sony Classical Records's American division after Sony acquired CAMI video. Within one year he had been appointed head of Sony Classical worldwide. While at Sony Classical, Gelb pursued a controversial strategy of emphasizing crossover music over mainstream classical repertoire Examples include cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who was encouraged to record americana; electronic composer Vangelis, who recorded choral symphony Mythodea; and Charlotte Church, a pop artist who started her career as a classical singer. Additionally, Gelb oversaw the recording and release of the soundtrack to the film Titanic, the highest selling film soundtrack ever.
Gelb became the new General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera, taking over from Joseph Volpe, on August 1, 2006.
Following the beginning of his tenure in 2006, the Met had greatly improved ticket sales. Hit new productions of Madama Butterfly directed by Anthony Minghella; The Barber of Seville by Bartlett Sher; and Tan Dun's new opera The First Emperor directed by Zhang Yimou sold out their entire runs. The Met became the first art institution in the world to offer live high definition broadcasts of its operas to movie theaters in many countries of the world, allowing viewings of a live opera performance in a cinema or, later, on public broadcasting's high definition television channels. Given a year's overlap from the time of his appointment to when he took over from Volpe, Gelb was able to plan for these presentations well in advance.
Gelb has also asserted the importance of his combining the roles of financial and general management with that of being overall creative director. He has described plans to stage more productions each year but in an era of computer-generated visual effects, possibly no longer needing "tons of scenery" built and retained for each new production. These were among other plans for drawing in new (and younger) audiences without deterring the older opera lovers, the wealth and patronage of some of whom sustains the most lavish privately financed opera house in the world.
His other ideas included an annual "family-oriented" presentation at Christmas time, and collaborations with the Vivian Beaumont Theater of Lincoln Center to develop newer musical works with musicians such as Wynton Marsalis, Rachel Portman and Rufus Wainwright. In January 2007 Gelb announced a commission for a new opera from Osvaldo Golijov, tentatively scheduled for the 2010-2011 season. However, following the death in 2008 of Anthony Minghella who was to have written the libretto, the premiere was postponed to 2014.
In his book, Who Killed Classical Music?, Norman Lebrecht alleged that while Gelb was affiliated with the Boston Symphony, his father Arthur Gelb, Managing Editor of The New York Times, allowed the group excessive coverage in the New York Times. "[T]he Boston band received more column inches than the paper's hometown New York Philharmonic." A 1990 article in Variety magazine reported that "[c]lients of Arthur Gelb's son, Peter ... were said by staffers at the time to be given what one described as 'ridiculous overcoverage.'"
His career at Sony coincided with the decline in sales of classical recordings and a reduction in new classical recording by the major labels. "Crossover" and soundtrack releases were promoted, while at the same time Gelb was criticized for failing to make available much of Sony's huge library of classical performances. Regarding repertoire choices, the writer Norman Lebrecht has quoted Gelb as saying that he would "rather lose a million on a movie score than make $10,000 on a small shit" (referring to low-profit mainstream classical releases) and, "I know what good music is, I just don’t want to record it." When Gelb was succeeded by Gilbert Hetherwick as the head of the newly merged Sony BMG Masterworks in 2005, Hetherwick said that "I think that making records that are basically pop records and calling them classical is in some ways surrendering."
Gelb's history at Sony caused concern among critics when he was appointed to take over as General Manager at the Metropolitan Opera. He has responded to fears that he would dilute the Met's artistic standards as he seeks a wider audience for the company. “I think what I’m doing is exactly what the Met engaged me to do, which is build bridges to a broader public. This is not about dumbing down the Met, it’s just making it accessible."
Gelb's relationship with the press continues to be strained in his time at the Metropolitan Opera, mainly due to negative reviews that his new production of Der Ring des Nibelungen and tenure as the company's General Manager have received. In 2012, radio stadion WQXR-FM rescinded a blog post by critic Olivia Giovetti after Gelb complained to the station's president and chief executive. Giovetti's piece opined that the Met under Gelb "bears the mothball-like scent of an oligarchy." In a phone call to the station, Gelb called the piece "awful and nasty." Weeks later, following an equally critical essay about the Met under Gelb by Brian Kellow and a negative review of the Met's new production of The Ring, classical music magazine Opera News announced it would no longer review Metropolitan Opera productions. Gelb said the decision was made “in collaboration with the guild". However, due to negative public reaction, the decision was quickly reversed.
Gelb is married to the conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson. He has two children from a previous marriage.
- "Metropolitan Opera press release, 30 October 2004". Metoperafamily.org. Retrieved 2012-08-14.
- Steven Winn, "Tuning up for the 21st century." San Francisco Chronicle, 16 July 2002.[dead link]
- "Norman Lebrecht, "How the Met was fixed". ''La Scena Musicale'', 11 November 2004". Scena.org. 2004-11-11. Retrieved 2012-08-14.
- "Rupert Christiansen, "Met's new man is aiming for the stars", ''Telegraph'', 24 June 2006". Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-08-14.
- Anthony Tommasini, "New Operas at the Met: What Works?", New York Times, 11 January 2007.
- Lawless, Jill. "Minghella won Oscar for 'English Patient'". Rocky Mountain News via Associated Press (March 19, 2008) (subscription required)
- Kaptainis, Arthur. "Lepage going cosmic for Metropolitan Opera". Montreal Gazette (December 18, 2010)
- Norman Lebrecht, Who Killed Classical Music?, pp. 185-6
- "Culture shock at New York Times", Variety, 30 May 1990, p. 1, quoted in Norman Lebrecht, Who Killed Classical Music?, pp. 186
- Martin Cullingford, "Sony BMG announce new classical division". Gramophone, 13 April 2005.[dead link]
- Daniel J. Wakin, "The Multiplex as Opera House: Will They Serve Popcorn?".New York Times, September 7, 2006.
- Julie Bloom, Jeremy Egner and Jon Huang/The New York Times (2012-04-06). "'Circling the Ring,' The New York Times, 1 May 2012". Nytimes.com. Retrieved 2012-08-14.
- Wakin, Daniel J. (May 21, 2012). "Latest Met Aria: Bad Opera News Is No News". The New York Times.
- Pompeo, Joe (May 22, 2012). "In reversal, Opera News will continue to cover the Metropolitan Opera". Capital New York.
- appointment to the Met
- Gelb on Future of Classical Recordings
- Norman Lebrecht on Gelb's appointment at the Met
- Official biography
|General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera