If you chose one word to describe the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 on April 16th, 2016 – it would be “Ethos.”
Andris Nelsons chose this penultimate concert carefully by searching a piece of music that would move audience members to goosebumps and tears. I know this because I was one of them.
Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) began composing his Ninth Symphony in 1909-1910.The piece calls for four flutes and piccolo, three oboes and English horn, four clarinets (fourth doubling E-Flat clarinet) and bass clarinet, four bassoons (third doubling contrabassoon), four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, bass tuba, timpani, cymbals, bass drum, tam-tam, triangle, glockenspiel, low-pitched chimes, two harps, and strings.
This Symphony was Mahler’s last completed works before his death. The piece premiered in 1912 in Vienna, one year after Mahler passed away.
Mahler’s daughter, Maria, was severely ill with scarlet fever during the process of Symphony No. 9. His wife was also feeling sick and joking said to the house doctor, “Well since you are here, might as well check me out too.” Mahler was diagnosed with a heart condition. Though he knew the circumstances of his illness, Mahler was not a dying man.
After resigning his position at the Vienna Opera in 1908, he took on a new role as Music Director of the New York Philharmonic. He soon began writing his Tenth Symphony after finishing his Ninth but was not completed.
Symphony No. 9 has a mix of colors and emotions throughout the composition – to say; it is a reflection of life and death – which is no stranger to Mahler’s previous works. “A symphony must embody the whole Universe” Mahler once said.
The first movement is slow in tempo (Andante comodo) and long in length – with a key signature of D-Major. The motif develops into various melodies, growing and expanding to the climax, then simmers down till the end of the movement. The second and third movements are fast and short. The second reflects a somewhat of a country dance with a relaxed feel in the key of C-Major. The third is in the form of a rondo and presents a rhythmic energy in the piece. The final movement switches to D-Flat Major – in which this term is called “progressive tonality.” This slow movement paints deep emotions with the string section taking most of the work. The action climaxes to great nuances and then finally simmers down to silence – where the audience and musicians reflect their emotional status.
Nelsons lead the orchestra with composure. Mahler’s compositions can make conductors over-do texture and melodies. This action was not the case at Symphony Hall in Boston.
The first movement was pleasant with the delivery of passionate sounds throughout the venue. The second movement put a smile on my face with cheerful textures and content moods in the woodwind section. The third movement gave the brass section a moment to shine with grand gestures. In the fourth movement, the Violin section gave a bold statement in the first few bars – in which gave me goosebumps and water in my eyes. The fluidity of the string section was graceful and powerful to witness. Reading the faces of the string section told me that they felt Mahler’s message and powerful statement of life and death. Concertmaster Malcome Lowe expressed passion in his emotional solos, along with Steven Ansell on Viola, and Sato Knudsen on Cello. There was a brief moment of silence after the dwindling sound from the string section for about 2 minutes. I could see Malcome Lowe weeping on stage after the audience gave a standing ovation – with the audience crying with him.
This performance made me reminisce the first time I’ve heard the BSO live. Listening to the fourth movement made me cope with my emotions and where I am in life at this moment. Life is full of up’s and down’s, and many individuals do not cope their frustrations and troubles in life. We take life for granted and forget that we live once. We tend to forget how beauty and love surround life. Death can happen at any moment of anyone’s life- in this case; we would regret to embrace life’s attributes in the afterlife. The statement is what I believe Mahler said in his music. He looked for inner peace with himself and to rid of his demons. His music made him cope with his inner emotions – and as of today, makes music lovers deal with theirs.
In conclusion, this was my favorite performance from the BSO. Andris Nelsons is a gift for the orchestra, winning a Grammy and bringing in more audiences in Symphony Hall. They will continue to perform this piece in Europe beginning on May 3rd till May 12th – visiting Germany, Austria, and Luxembourg. If you live or expecting to travel to these countries, witness and hear what will be the best performance of the year.
It was an ethos moment I will never forget.
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