Richard and I went to the gala opening concert of the New York Philharmonic season on 9/19/17. We were given comps by our lovely friend Deedee Aguilar, the Group Sales Manager for the Philharmonic. Here are some cute pix of us with Deedee - - check out her handbag!
They played the Mahler 5th symphony, which I don't think I'd heard before. What a glorious piece. Richard used the word "bombastic," I would use the word "dramatic." They were conducted by Jaap van Zweden, who is their Music Director Designate (he takes over full time in the fall of 2018). The piece has a touching history with the Phil:
Mahler himself was the Music Director of the Phil from 1909 to 1911. The orchestra played the first movement of the 5th in a memorial concert for Mahler in 1911. The full symphony was first performed by the Phil in 1926, conducted by Mahler's friend and associate Willem Mengelberg (Music Director from 1922-1930). Leonard Bernstein (Music Director from 1958-1969) loved the Mahler 5 so much that he was buried with the score. And one final connection: Bernstein conducted a rehearsal of the Mahler 1st symphony in Berlin in 1987 and wanted to hear the acoustics, so he handed the baton to the concertmaster, who was Jaap van Zweden! This was the first time that van Zweden had ever conducted.
The orchestra opened with "The Star-Spangled Banner," a tradition for opening night concerts. All of the musicians stood up, with the exception of the cellists. The guy playing the cymbals had the most glamorous job, full of splashes. Let me give you a demo:
Oh, say can you see [SPLASH!]
By the dawn's early light [SPLASH!]
What so proudly we hailed [SPLASH!]
At the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars [SPLASH!]
Et cetera. He was splashing with such blinding glamour, it was like the resurrection of Esther Williams.
On to the Mahler. The first half of the first movement was full of muscle and drama. I could hear the ghost of Wagner looming over the music. Let's say that if Mahler is purple, Wagner is blue. That would make Richard Strauss green. Do you see my method here, Mahler and Strauss both branching off from the blue of Wagner? I guess Bruckner would have to fall somewhere into this spectrum, but I don't know enough Bruckner to know where to place him. Anyway, the first movement sounded like orchestral excerpts from an opera Wagner never wrote. A LATE Wagner opera.
The second half of the first movement was suave and satiny, with a hint of menace. It made me think of Mr. Willoughby in *Sense and Sensibility* - - Marianne loves him because he's handsome, charming, a real dreamboat, but he turns out to be a jerk. This music, to me, communicated that sense of swooning love that you'll soon realize is not really what you had in mind. When the swoony tune returns at the end of the movement, the surrounding music seems to say, "I told you so."
The second movement sort of washed over me, I didn't have any lasting impressions of it. I wrote in my notes, "full of sparkle."
The first half of the last movement is for strings only, with sympathetic plom plom plom plom ploms from the harp. Unbearably beautiful, heartbreaking and tender, full of yearning, warmth, and true Mahlerian sentiment. Van Zweden milked every last drop of cream out of the music, but never whipped the cream, or added sugar! It was divine and transcendent, but always in good taste. I should say a few more words about him: he's snappy, precise, full of passion, and the orchestra seems to really watch him and enjoy playing for him. I liked him an awful lot and look forward to seeing/hearing more from him in the future.
The final section opens with a sunrise over the Lederhosen. Highly Teutonic, with the scent of pine in the air. I was grinning like an idiot with the way Mahler tossed the material from section to section, it was delightful and joyous. It came to a boisterous end.
The audience went berserk. Van Zweden, of course, gave special bows to members of the orchestra who had juicy solos, and he took many bows himself. They presented him with a bouquet that appeared to be five feet tall and three feet wide, it was huge, I'd never seen anything like it. He did the most moving thing: he took the flowers, bowed, laid them down on the podium, picked up the score from his stand, turned it around, pointed to the name MAHLER on the front of the score, and pointed to the flowers. As if to say, "The flowers should go to HIM." An entirely Dutch sort of humility.