14 years - worth the wait for Mahler's 9th Symphony

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Ricordanza
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Joined: Sun Jun 26, 2005 4:58 am
Location: Southern New Jersey, USA

14 years - worth the wait for Mahler's 9th Symphony

Post by Ricordanza » Sat May 11, 2019 4:50 pm

It’s been 14 years since the Philadelphia Orchestra performed Mahler’s Ninth Symphony. I can’t say I remember every detail of that 2005 performance, under Christoph Eschenbach’s direction. After all, this is an hour-and-a-half work of enormous complexity. But I do remember the emotional intensity of this piece and the awe I felt at the scope of Mahler’s genius. That was not my first exposure to the work—I have an excellent recording by Sir John Barbirolli conducting the Berlin Philharmonic—but there is no substitute for a live performance of Mahler. So it was with great anticipation that I came to Verizon Hall to experience the performance of this symphony by the Philadelphians on Thursday night, May 9, under the direction of Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

What makes this symphony so special? Let me begin at the end. Mahler’s last completed symphony consists of four movements and each one is worthy of analysis and admiration. But the spiritual heart of the piece is the last movement. Unlike nearly every other symphonic conclusion, it is a slow movement. It begins with the strings alone, repeating and reshaping a short musical phrase in a manner that is wondrously imaginative and mesmerizing. The movement builds in intensity, adding other instruments from the huge orchestral array assembled on the stage. Eventually, the music begins to fade and ends in a whisper.

After the barely discernable final note, Yannick brought his arms down to his sides and the audience waited a full 30 seconds before exploding in applause.

As noted by numerous commentators, the theme of this symphony is farewell and death, but to me, it is uplifting. Why? Even though the work is permeated with sadness, even bitterness, listening to a great performance of this work is nothing less than a spiritual experience.

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