Thursday, June 25, 2009

New York Philharmonic – Lorin Maazel, conductor. June 24, 2009.

Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, Second Tier Center (Seat EE5, $54).

Symphony No. 8 in E-flat major (1906-07) by Mahler (1860-1911)

Christine Brewer, Nancy Gustafson, Jeanine De Bique, Sopranos
Mary Phillips, Nancy Maultsby, Mezzo-Sopranos
Anthony Dean Griffey, Tenor
Wolfgang Schone, Bass
New York Choral Artists, Joseph Flummerfelt, Director
The Dessoff Symphonic Choir, James Bagwell, Director
Brooklyn Youth Chorus, Dianne Berkun, Director

This series of concerts will be Maazel’s last as music director of the New York Philharmonic, and for this special occasion they will play the “Symphony of a Thousand” by Mahler. Anne and I debated whether we should take the train in from Seacaucus Junction since the park & ride lot is now open, but decided to drive in via the Holland Tunnel. We managed to get free parking on 10th Ave and shared a sandwich from EuroPan before the concert.

When the evening began, the Philharmonic’s Chairman Paul Guenther came on stage to pay a short tribute to Maazel, and presented a couple of plaques from the City and the Philharmonic Society to Maazel. Maazel also said some words, including the oft-used wistful words “all good things must come to an end.” Mayor Bloomberg designated the day as “Lorin Maazel Day” and Maazel in turned declared the evening to be Mahler’s. I thought a better tribute would have been to the orchestra.

This symphony is a massive piece of music. It is divided into two parts, totaling about 90 minutes. The first part is based on the medieval Latin hymn “Veni, creator spiritus” written for the Pentecost; it lasts about 30 minutes (program notes say 23). The second part is based on the final scene of Faust, the poem written by Goethe. It is in German.

The premiere of the symphony employed 858 singers, 171 instruments, and 1 conductor, totaling 1030. For tonight’s concert, I estimate 250 singers and 150 instruments. Nearly everyone in the orchestra showed up; I am sure there were a few temps also.

The complexity of the symphony is frankly beyond me. I do not understand how the two parts relate to each other. Actually, the meaning of the individual parts escapes me also. Finally, the music is not something I would have naturally associated with Mahler. I think of Mahler’s music as a series of vistas.

Part I sounds very much like the hymn it is. There is much shouting involved. Part II is more complicated. It begins with about 10 minutes of instrument music, before the voices come in. Also, it is more “opera-like” and in many places is evocative of Puccini. The dynamic range is much wider. The soloists put in a mixed performance, more often than not their voices are lost in the cacophony of choir and orchestra music. De Bique sang only two lines from the Second Tier Box as Mater gloriosa. This must be one of the shortest performances that earned the artist a billing in the program. There were brass instruments that played from the balcony, and many passages where only a few instruments accompanied the singing. Maazel’s movements were more pronounced than usual, perhaps the weight of this being the last series got to him.

The audience gave Maazel an enthusiastic curtain call at the end. Many ignored the house rules and whipped out their cameras to take pictures.

I haven’t found any review on the concert yet as I write this. I am glad I went, both to experience this complex piece of music, and to witness the end of the Maazel era.

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