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The Boston Symphony Orchestra Performs Mahler's Fifth Symphony at Carnegie Hall
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The Boston Symphony Orchestra Performs Mahler's Fifth Symphony at Carnegie Hall

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Carnegie Hall

Boston Symphony Orchestra
Andris Nelsons, Music Director and Conductor

Håkan Hardenberger, Trumpet

HK Gruber: Aerial,
“Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra”

Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp Minor

Carnegie Hall
Isaac Stern Auditorium/Ronald O. Perelman Stage

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
November 19, 2018

HK Gruber (b. 1943): Aerial (1998-99), “Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra”
Håkan Hardenberger, Trumpet

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911): Symphony No. 5 (1901-02, rev. 1904).
Part I
1. Funeral March: “At a measured pace. Strict. Like a cortège.”
2. “Stormy, with utmost vehemence.”
Part II
3. Scherzo: “Energetic, not too fast.”
Part III
4. Adagietto: “Very slow.”
5. Rondo-Finale: “Allegro giocoso. Lively.”

Andris Nelsons, Musical Director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO), greeted the orchestra’s New York fans at tonight’s sold-out Carnegie Hall with genuine warmth. This was an audience of Mahler enthusiasts, but the first work was chosen for its brevity (the Mahler Fifth is expansive) and a contrasting featured trumpet. The 1998-99, HK Gruber Aerial, Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra, with trumpet solo by Håkan Hardenberger, includes titled segments, “Done with the compass – Done with the chart!” and “Gone Dancing”. The opening, solemn trumpet is in a mournful drone. Mr. Hardenberger, a Swedish trumpeter, is a masterful musician, switching between several instruments now and then, including a cow horn and piccolo trumpet.

The orchestra featured an expansive array of percussion, including, it appeared, a xylophone, vibraphone, trombones, and tuba. There were pregnant silences, in which not a movement was made, as musicians counted, before a contemporary, staccato motif. Bluesy, edgy, surreal musical imagery abounded. Dissonant drama ensued, with the audience focused on this rare performance. I thought of filmatic scores at times. A muted trumpet, more pauses, and repetitive elements led to the finale, which proceeded like an exotic caravan. A solo yearning trumpet pierced the air before more extended silence. The Maestro’s baton falls, and the audience erupts into accolades.

The early twentieth century, Mahler Fifth has long been one of my favorite symphonies, last reviewed in this Hall under the baton of Semyon Bychkov with the Concertgebouw. Tonight, Maestro Nelsons conducted the BSO in this masterpiece with aplomb. This over-one hour work is divided into three Parts and five movements, with each movement, on some level, quoting from another, yet with altered tempo and mood. The five movements are detailed above and will be described here in the gestalt.

The symphony opens with Part I’s “Funeral March” and its enchanting trumpet introduction, played tonight by, I assume, Thomas Rolfs, who is listed as Principal. On this occasion I focused on the muffled timpani, echoing the trumpet theme. The cortege motif was intense and gripping. This spotlighted rear stage trumpet filled the Hall up to and over the balcony, where I sat this time, to enjoy Carnegie Hall’s renowned acoustics. The “Stormy” passages brought out the string and horns in a more melodic cortege refrain. The intriguing theme is sorrowful and longing, with the orchestra merging on single notes, before it returns as a dirge, with the previous, vibrant phrases now heard in adagio.

Part II’s “Scherzo” was upbeat and exuberant in understated fashion. I thought about Mahler’s pursuit, at the time, of the love of his life, Alma Schindler, and how Part II leads into Part III, with the infamous “Adagietto”, his official marriage proposal in musical manuscript. The “Scherzo’s” lyrically bucolic elements seemed evocative of later works by Copland. A solo on the French horn repeats the ongoing, mesmerizing theme, and pizzicato violins sizzle amidst this entrancing sound. Part II continues with dancelike violin rhythms, punctuated by timpani and sharp wood blocks (the balcony is suited to see the musicians and their instruments entirely, in the moment, including tonight’s glockenspiel.) Before the French horn reenters, Austrian waltzes can be heard swirling gorgeously.

Finally, it was time for the Part III “Adagietto”, which I have listened to dozens of times since my last Mahler Fifth concert review. This is a theme that has been used for ballet and has been presented in adapted piano format, although the original symphonic version is designed only for strings. It opens with two notes, repeated on the harp, and here I assume by Jessica Zhou, listed as Principal. There is much noted online about various conductors’ rhythmic decisions in pace and energy of the “Adagietto”. Mahler and Mengelberg conducted it at seven minutes, while others have drawn it out to twelve. Tonight it was performed slowly by the BSO like a weeping heart, languorous, longing, distraught. Each note is emphasized in textured emotionality, with the entire string section of harp, violins, violas, celli, and basses.

The Part II “Rondo-Finale” was rapid and dervish with full strings and flutes. The bassoons and tuba, as well, were prominently featured. The horns played with spring-like optimism, repeating a passage of the previous “Adagietto” in magnetic musical memory. The brass section was robust and crisp. Two-tone phrases abounded, and I wondered if Mahler had been silently singing Alma’s name. The Finale ended in regal flair, and multiple cheers exploded in the endless standing ovation. Kudos to the Boston Symphony, kudos to Andris Nelsons, and kudos to Gustav Mahler.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at