Benny's World

Sunday, March 19, 2006


This weekend my spouse and I went to the Windy City for a long weekend (Fri AM-Sun PM). We made plans to see the Chicago Symphony Orchestra perform Mahler's #2, aka "Resurrection". However, we were encouraged to go because Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT as he is known to insiders and marketers), the musical director of the SF Symphony, was the guest conductor, and we had heard him and his "band" perform Mahler's #5 two years ago. It was a wonderful concert.

I had not heard this Mahler work all of the way through, and I knew very little about the history or the circumstances why Mahler felt he needed compose something about a funeral. I suspect that artists have a great understanding about the turmoil or conflicts that can occur on the macro and micro levels of familial relationships. Chicago Tribune Entertainment beat correspondent John von Rhein scribed his view this way:

Mahler's five-movement Second Symphony sets out to answer some of the most profound questions of human existence. Why do we live? Why do we suffer? It begins with a grim funeral march and ends, 90 event-laden minutes later, with a stage full of players, choristers and vocal soloists grandly invoking the Christian belief in heavenly rebirth.

I wanted to predict what would come to me in this Symphony. After 4 minutes into the concert, I realized MTT had command of the music, so did the professionals, and I would just allow myself to drink in the surprises, among them to embelish certain parts: 2 tympanies, 2 harps, 2 of nearly every instrument. MTT would swerve his body left to right, letting the players know what should be flourishes within the piece. Again from Von Rein:

Tilson Thomas brought a genuine sense of occasion to the performance. He stressed sweeping dramatic force over histrionics, majesty over bombast, poignancy over vulgarity. He made vivid Mahler's inner conflicts without distorting the line or the larger architecture.

"The mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson's entry in the "Urlicht" was so soft, so gentle, as to hold the audience at rapt attention." The mezzo-soprano sang as if utterly transfixed. Von Rein believed that she portrayed what Mahler perceived her voice to do, which was to be of a child's in heaven. I didn't have that impression; my hearing of her instrument was that she had a beautiful, lamenting, but also joyful voice that motivated us about life's (and maybe, afterlife's gratitudes) struggles and how at times we may be able to get through them: through art, nature, contemplation.

The choral part was fabulous. During the 5th movement,in which it was nearly halfway through the movement of 34 minutes, the chorus sat down during their collective voices; then within 5-8 minutes, they stood up: hark, they were alive. They were speaking to us, in group of spirits, who understood all of us. It was marvelous to behold.

I had thought MTT had understodd Mahler's soul in him in conducting this sensational work. After revisiting the definition of dybbuk this evening: "In Jewish folklore, the wandering soul of a dead person that enters the body of a living person and controls his or her behavior", recognized that MTT may be the medium who does understand Mahler, but that during this symphony and sometimes in life, I may possess Mahler's dybbuk--and the music resonated in my heart.

Mahler spoke to every emotion I felt and I had to have many tissues to keep my face dry. The audience gave a 15 min ovation without any expectation of an encore. MTT and the rest had given their best.

Anyway, I enjoyed this concert and the Girodet Exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago today.

Great bookends. I need them to refresh my thoughts and re-energize my batteries. The Arts do feed my soul, or perhaps, my dybbuks.


  • If I recall correctly Mahler's second symphony was the one that he feared had presaged the loss of his daughter with Alma many years later.

    I've only heard the Chicago Symphony once under Solti, but it was a musical experience that I still remember clearly (Bartok Concerto for Orchestro and Wagner,Die Meistersinger Overture) some twenty five years later. Of course, it helped that the 49ers won their first Super Bowl earlier that afternoon.

    It's been a while since I talked to anyone about Mahler though. I don't know that there's any symphonic composer who can be as directly sad and wistful as Mahler and bombastic in the same symphony. It's strange to think that this also was German culture at the turn of the last century.
    Also strange to think that the guy was the director of New York Philharmonic.
    Glad you had a good time at the symphony. Not many people go to Dave Matthews and Mahler in the same six month period.

    By Blogger Chancelucky, at 8:50 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home