Mahler 2 at the New York Philharmonic

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Ricordanza
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Mahler 2 at the New York Philharmonic

Post by Ricordanza » Thu Sep 29, 2011 8:22 pm

It’s been over 40 years (gulp!) since I’ve been to a concert at New York’s Avery Fisher Hall. In fact, back then, it wasn’t Avery Fisher Hall, but merely Philharmonic Hall. But Saturday night, September 24, was the occasion for a memorable return to that concert hall. Thanks to a birthday gift to my wife from her mother and brother, we had the great pleasure of attending the New York Philharmonic’s performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection).

At first, I thought it odd that the program still lists Leonard Bernstein as “Laureate Conductor, 1943-1990.” The Philharmonic has had several notable past conductors, including Gustav Mahler himself! But for Saturday night’s program, it was altogether appropriate. Back in the 1960’s, and before, Mahler was a rarity on concert programs, except in Philharmonic Hall, thanks to Leonard Bernstein’s advocacy. Now, Mahler is an audience favorite, and this symphony is perhaps the most popular of them all. It’s not hard to understand why. From the point of view of musical inventiveness, Mahler produces one incredible moment after another, exploiting the full scope of the orchestra’s capability, not to mention the chorus and the soprano and mezzo-soprano soloists. But what really grabs the audience, including this audience member, is the enormous range of human emotions communicated by this work, from the anguish of the first movement, to the delight in nature in the second movement, to the triumphant optimism of the final, fifth movement. And what is the symphony about? The title given this work and the words of the final movement, of course, cannot be ignored, but as the program notes point out, the final hymn is not about “The” Resurrection in the Christian context, but rather “the rebirth of the individual into immortal triumph.” It’s rather heady stuff, but interestingly, Mahler himself resisted the idea that there was any explicit “program” to this work. A program for any musical work is “only a superficial indication,” he wrote, and for this work in particular, “it can no more be explained than the world itself.”

From the moment Music Director Alan Gilbert signaled the assembled forces (the enlarged orchestra and the 100-member New York Choral Artists) to begin, until the last sounds of the thunderous and sustained standing ovation, it was a performance to savor. The Philharmonic’s solo and ensemble playing is, of course, superb, and Gilbert led a performance that brought forth all those wonderful and subtle details of the symphony. But I also got the sense of the work’s overall conception and structure from this performance, which is essential to hold together this nearly one-and-one half hour work. Soprano soloist Miah Persson has a lovely voice (and appearance), but mezzo-soprano Lilli Paasikivi made the more compelling impression with her mesmerizing rendition of Urlicht (Primal Light) in the fourth movement.

Lots of words have been written about Avery Fisher Hall’s less than ideal acoustics, but to these (admittedly imperfect) ears, I found no deficiency with regard to presence or clarity of sound. Balance could have been a little better—Gilbert uses the split strings arrangement, so from our seats on the right, the sound of the first violins was just a little bit less than what it could be. And in a couple of passages of slightly disconnected playing, I got the sense that the musicians did not hear each other that well. But that’s a quibble; one cannot really expect a 110-player orchestra to play like a chamber ensemble.

2011 marks the 100th anniversary of Mahler’s death. His Symphony No. 2 was completed 117 years ago. But today’s audiences still feel a strong emotional connection to this music and, I’m sure, will continue to do so for many years to come. One need not be a believer in the afterlife in the literal sense to recognize that the soul of Mahler, through his music, has continued to live on. Immortal triumph, indeed!

P.S. Ralph was a fellow attendee at this concert and sends his regard to all his CMG friends (although he still claims that he doesn't have time to come back here.

Steinway
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Re: Mahler 2 at the New York Philharmonic

Post by Steinway » Sat Oct 01, 2011 9:34 am

Ricordanza wrote:It’s been over 40 years (gulp!) since I’ve been to a concert at New York’s Avery Fisher Hall. In fact, back then, it wasn’t Avery Fisher Hall, but merely Philharmonic Hall. But Saturday night, September 24, was the occasion for a memorable return to that concert hall. Thanks to a birthday gift to my wife from her mother and brother, we had the great pleasure of attending the New York Philharmonic’s performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection).

At first, I thought it odd that the program still lists Leonard Bernstein as “Laureate Conductor, 1943-1990.” The Philharmonic has had several notable past conductors, including Gustav Mahler himself! But for Saturday night’s program, it was altogether appropriate. Back in the 1960’s, and before, Mahler was a rarity on concert programs, except in Philharmonic Hall, thanks to Leonard Bernstein’s advocacy. Now, Mahler is an audience favorite, and this symphony is perhaps the most popular of them all. It’s not hard to understand why. From the point of view of musical inventiveness, Mahler produces one incredible moment after another, exploiting the full scope of the orchestra’s capability, not to mention the chorus and the soprano and mezzo-soprano soloists. But what really grabs the audience, including this audience member, is the enormous range of human emotions communicated by this work, from the anguish of the first movement, to the delight in nature in the second movement, to the triumphant optimism of the final, fifth movement. And what is the symphony about? The title given this work and the words of the final movement, of course, cannot be ignored, but as the program notes point out, the final hymn is not about “The” Resurrection in the Christian context, but rather “the rebirth of the individual into immortal triumph.” It’s rather heady stuff, but interestingly, Mahler himself resisted the idea that there was any explicit “program” to this work. A program for any musical work is “only a superficial indication,” he wrote, and for this work in particular, “it can no more be explained than the world itself.”

From the moment Music Director Alan Gilbert signaled the assembled forces (the enlarged orchestra and the 100-member New York Choral Artists) to begin, until the last sounds of the thunderous and sustained standing ovation, it was a performance to savor. The Philharmonic’s solo and ensemble playing is, of course, superb, and Gilbert led a performance that brought forth all those wonderful and subtle details of the symphony. But I also got the sense of the work’s overall conception and structure from this performance, which is essential to hold together this nearly one-and-one half hour work. Soprano soloist Miah Persson has a lovely voice (and appearance), but mezzo-soprano Lilli Paasikivi made the more compelling impression with her mesmerizing rendition of Urlicht (Primal Light) in the fourth movement.

Lots of words have been written about Avery Fisher Hall’s less than ideal acoustics, but to these (admittedly imperfect) ears, I found no deficiency with regard to presence or clarity of sound. Balance could have been a little better—Gilbert uses the split strings arrangement, so from our seats on the right, the sound of the first violins was just a little bit less than what it could be. And in a couple of passages of slightly disconnected playing, I got the sense that the musicians did not hear each other that well. But that’s a quibble; one cannot really expect a 110-player orchestra to play like a chamber ensemble.

2011 marks the 100th anniversary of Mahler’s death. His Symphony No. 2 was completed 117 years ago. But today’s audiences still feel a strong emotional connection to this music and, I’m sure, will continue to do so for many years to come. One need not be a believer in the afterlife in the literal sense to recognize that the soul of Mahler, through his music, has continued to live on. Immortal triumph, indeed!

P.S. Ralph was a fellow attendee at this concert and sends his regard to all his CMG friends (although he still claims that he doesn't have time to come back here.
Henry..

A wonderful review, as usual. I love this work and wish I could have been there.

Thanks again. Looking forward to our piano series at the Perlman!

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