Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp minor by Gustav Mahler (1860-1911).
Anne had a class during the evening, so I went to the concert by myself. I heard Eschenbach a couple of years back, with the New York Philharmonic, but don't remember much of that event. The tickets are "reasonably" priced; I got one in the middle price range.
Eschenbach was the director of the Houston Symphony for over ten years (1988-1999), and from the enthusiastic applause of the audience when he first stepped onto the stage, appears to be very popular with tonight's crowd.
For this evidently highly anticipated event, picking Mahler's Fifth was a safe and somewhat timid choice. The symphony is always a crowd pleaser, as long as the brass section holds up. And tonight the brass section acquitted itself quite well.
Jones Hall, like Brown Theater, is a large building. It has a lot of common areas so people don't bump into each other during intermission. But there was no intermission tonight, the 70-minute work was performed without one. The orchestra is pretty large, I counted 15 first violins and 8 basses, for instance. The acoustics of the auditorium is not as crisp as it could be, but quite acceptable. The sometimes muffled sound from the orchestra could be a result of that, or the orchestra was sloppy at times. The seats are comfortable, with lots of leg room. It even has a bit of recline to it.
In general it was a very enjoyable concert. The last time I heard Mahler's Fifth was with Dudamel conducting the New York Philharmonic, which I raved about. I don't think this is quite at that level, but still very good.
Even though I played this piece with the Cornell Symphony during my college days, I am still amazed that there are parts I didn't fully appreciate until the current hearing. I especially appreciated how the horns led in the last movement. Eschenbach's interpretation was a bit on the mechanical side. I would like to have more graceful phrasing at many of the instances that a distinct downbeat was heard. I went back to my blog about the last concert of his that I heard, the same remarks (energetic, seems to concentrate on one part at a time) also apply here. At that concert I heard Beethoven's First Piano Concerto (Lang Lang as soloist) and Bruckner's Ninth Symphony.
The applause at the end was thunderous, and Eschenbach made four (I think) curtain calls. I wonder if the Houston Symphony gets this kind of response every time.
When I wrote about the Houston Ballet a couple of days ago, I was musing about how the classical music scene in Houston compares to that of Hong Kong, my home town. I was quite sure Hong Kong would not be able to stage a ballet to the level of the Houston Ballet, and I am also quite sure Hong Kong's orchestra - although quite good - isn't quite at the level of the Houston Symphony. So, sad to say, it is settled.
I thought I lucked out again when I found an off-street parking space. When I came out of the concert I found a parking ticket stuck to my windshield, a $70 fine. The offense is "tow away zone, bagged meter." The closest signs at the street corner say nothing of the sort. I have yet to decide whether I want to appeal it or not ... A blemish on an otherwise nice evening, even though I was by myself. On the other hand, my evening would really have been ruined if they had towed away my car. [Note added 12/13/2011. So I did access the Houston Parking website and appealed to the City's sense of fairness. I just heard back from them that I am not liable. As my son said, "huzzah."]