My friend Adam is convinced (and rightly so) that no composer speaks to him, or moves him, or engenders life in him like Gustav Mahler does.
Now I have zero ability to determine who is my most beloved composer. Howells stands at the front, but other composers feed me too: Ockeghem, Palestrina, Handel, Mozart, Tchaikowsky, Rachmaninoff, Strauss, Vaughan Williams, Elgar. And Bach. Always Bach.
Last night, though, as I heard the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra play the Mahler fifth symphony, I was reminded again why Mahler is so dear.
While I wished for a bit more frenzy in the final bars, and a bit more emotional tug in the second movement, I witnessed last evening a powerful performance, led by music director David Robertson. The brass were in glorious form, with a new principal horn and, at the top of her impeccable game as she nears retirement, principal trumpet Susan Slaughter leading the charge. Seated as I was on the right side of the balcony, the basses and cellos also seemed especially impassioned last evening.
I took a score with me last evening, and I read much of the music as it was being played on stage. Mahler is genius. Pure genius. His scoring tricks are well-known, but they still stun. How a muted trumpet gives way to a piccolo, and they both sound alike, is a wonder of his imagination, and also of reality when played well. And how he combines three or four melodies at once is a glorious mystery.
The ovation this band received last evening, which was opening night for the new season, was well-deserved.
Opening the concert was a newer work for solo cello, large orchestra, world percussion, and hyper-accordion. I enjoyed it, and would hear it again . . . and watch it again, since the percussion were so fun to watch, as was the extended cadenza. But my money piece last night was Mr. Mahler’s Fifth. And what money it was.