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The Vienna Philharmonic Performs Mahler's "Ninth Symphony" at Carnegie Hall
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The Vienna Philharmonic Performs Mahler's "Ninth Symphony" at Carnegie Hall

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Carnegie Hall

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

Michael Tilson Thomas, Conductor

Mahler’s Symphony No. 9

Carnegie Hall
Isaac Stern Auditorium/Ronald O. Perelman Stage

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 6, 2019

Read about Gustav Mahler.


Gustav Mahler (1860-1911): Symphony No. 9 (1908-1909).
• “Andante comodo”
• “Im Tempo eines gemächlichen Ländlers. Etwas täppisch und sehr derb” (In the tempo of a
comfortable Ländler. Somewhat awkward and quite rough.)
• “Rondo-Burleske: Allegro assai. Sehr trotzig” (very defiant).
• “Adagio. Sehr langsam und noch zurückhaltend” (Very slow and reserved).
Courtesy of Carnegie Hall Program Notes.

The magnificent “Ninth Symphony” by Mahler has never been more resplendent and reverberating. It is still playing in my mind. I could sit through an entire second tour of this four-movement masterpiece, under the seasoned baton of the incomparable Michael Tilson Thomas. Performed at Carnegie Hall with no intermission, the solo work on tonight’s showcased program was magnetizing. This symphony premiered in 1912, performed by none other than the Vienna Philharmonic, conducted by the great Bruno Walter. Mahler, who died in 1911, had feared writing a ninth symphony, as Beethoven, Schubert, and Bruckner did not survive the year beyond the debuts of their ninth symphonies. Indeed, Mahler was destined for the same fate, even though he had begun his tenth. (Carnegie Notes.)

The “Andante comodo” first movement hinted, at times, of the Fifth Symphony’s “Adagietto”, in its reflective eeriness. Soon, in the midst of slightly atonal, stormy strings, we hear percussive, bristling brass. Maestro Tilson Thomas conducted, from the earliest phrases, with his entire body exuding the rhythms and moods. He is a study in the quintessential bond of conductor and orchestra, a cohesive duo. We heard textured, tonal angst, amidst a tuba and timpani. The heraldic brass, evolving strings, and piccolo ignite the quietude of the harp. A solo violin emerges above the blended, mesmerizing strings.

The opening of the second movement, “Im Tempo eines gemächlichen Ländlers. Etwas täppisch und sehr derb” (In the tempo of a comfortable Ländler. Somewhat awkward and quite rough.), evoked a street band marching forth. A devilish waltz ensues, with pronounced spinning and syncopation. Echoing phrases in the lower tonal range appear like a heartbeat, but without a foreboding motif. The third movement, “Rondo-Burleske: Allegro assai. Sehr trotzig” (very defiant), brought forth staccato orchestral unison, with a robust Philharmonic. Vibrantly sharp strings, along with a row of eight basses, created a filmatic and turbulent theme. Flutes, oboes, and other dissonant woodwinds eventually lead to a viola solo. Single instruments waft in the air, eloquently. When full musical momentum explodes through the entire percussion section - timpani, cymbals, tam-tam, and snare drum, among other percussive instruments - the symphonic drama is palpable.

The fourth and final movement, “Adagio. Sehr langsam und noch zurückhaltend” (Very slow and reserved), once again evoked the above mentioned “Adagietto”, which had been Mahler’s scripted engagement proposal to Alma, with a string ensemble lusciously featured. The Ninth’s theme is absolutely gorgeous, and from my excellent seat, I could see the Concertmaster, second violinist, a bassoonist in lush solo and blended musicality, then joined again by this titular orchestra. The symphony ensues with musical imagery of a hushed, setting sun, followed by surreal strings and harmonies. Timpani evoke the faintest of heartbeats, alongside a yearning cello. The symphony concludes with whispering, peaceful tones, a fitting tribute to the magnificent Mahler. Kudos to the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, to Maestro Tilson Thomas, and to Gustav Mahler.