Music I like: Mahler 5

Although I have worked for orchestras for the last ten years, I don't usually include classical music here. Perhaps because it was 'work', it didn't seem to fit on my hobby blog, or maybe I assumed that many readers would be uninterested in the subject.  I do try to keep my "Objects of Admiration" bite-sized: a quick break from the day-to-day, a taste of something beautiful or creative amidst the bland sameness you see everywhere.  However, today's entry is definitely more substantial meal!

I went to see the Toronto Symphony Orchestra perform Mahler Symphony 5 last night, along with a superb performance by Joshua Bell of Bruch's Violin Concerto.  Mr. Bell was incredible, as always, but for me the night was stolen by a performance of Mahler's 5th symphony, the likes of which I had never heard before.  At the risk of sounding like a cheesy music reviewer, I will tell you in all honesty that it was huge, it was gut-wrenching, it was tragic, it was tender, it was triumphant.  The symphony's Adagio has been used in the film Death in Venice, and for the funerals of Leonard Bernstein and Robert Kennedy, but Maestro Oundjian told us last night that it was actually written as a love letter to Mahler's wife, Alma.  He also explained that Mahler brought a colour and sound out of the orchestra in a way that has never been accomplished by any other composer. "Mahler is to symphonic music what Shakespeare is to the theatre" were Oundjian's first words on stage.  Conductor Herbert von Karajan apparently agreed, having once said that when one hears Mahler's Fifth, “you forget that time has passed. 
A great performance of the Fifth is a transforming experience. 
The fantastic finale almost forces you to hold your breath.”

That certainly held true for me.  I am attaching some clips here from You Tube because it is impossible to describe the music without hearing it, but even these are a pale shadow of a live performance.  There is some inexplicable magic involved in being present when this music rushes out from the stage; watching the musicians pour their souls into their music, the sweating brows of the brass, the intense concentration and emotion on every face, and the almost rapturous expression on the conductor.  You can't help but be swept into this moment, and feel that you are involved in something magical that is being created in this very instant, never to be experienced this way again.  It doesn't happen every time, but it sure did for me last night.

Pretty mushy words, no?  I have made a career out of trying to describe the magic of a live music experience, and have never been satisfied with the results.  I think it might just be impossible to articulate.  But I urge you to put a live orchestral performance on your bucket list, you won't regret it.

For those of you in Toronto, who happen to be without plans for Saturday, the TSO is going to perform this masterpiece one more time, at a special Late Night performance which starts at 10:30 pm.  You can bring your drinks in to the hall, and afterwards meet and mingle with musicians and the conductor at an audience-wise party, featuring the music of Toronto's Paisley Jura.  I really, really think it is a one-of-a-kind experience!  And since I got me some connections...if you enter the code "FRIENDS" you can get your tickets for $22.50.  If you go, let me know what you thought.  And if you feel like, maybe leave a comment on your favourite classical music experience?  I would love to hear them.


  1. I loved your Mahler blog. So glad to find a fellow lover of his. The most incredible musical experience I have ever had (as an audience member) was seeing the London Symphony Orch perform Mahler 10 last year. Mahler died before he could finish it so the completion was done by Derek Cooke. It is an AMAZING piece of music. I literally cried through about half of it (so that's like, what, half an hour...??). As soon as the flute solo started I was a mess. Mahler wrote Symphony 10 when he found out Alma, who he was madly in love with, was having an affair. He wrote the symphony as a tribute to the love they shared when they were younger. SO SAD AND BEAUTIFUL. And then he died. So anyway this flute solo - OMG it blew me away.

    I found the flute player through a mutual friend on Fbook and messaged him. Turns out that he had recovered recently from a bout of testicular cancer, and when it was time to return to work, he just couldn't find his "space" back in the orchestra. That is, until it was time to rehearse Mahler 10. That solo was his open door back into the familiar, comforting and fulfilling world he just couldn't find in the months before. That story made me cry more.

    The most memorable musical experience I have had as a SINGER was doing Mahler 2 at Scotiafest with Alain Trudel conducting. It's all about death and resurrection and the final movement is about accepting and rejoicing in the fact that there is light in death and that the soul lives on, etc. etc. Not really my personal beliefs but my GOD the sentiment is so strong and beautiful. I remember the choir had to really put all of our emotions aside as best we could in order to sing that final movement. Just incredible.

    Ummm sorry that was sorta long...I JUST LOVE MAHLER!

  2. listening to this, one can only imagine the deep love he had for his wife!

  3. Thanks for posting these links - Cam watched "the concert" with me and loved it. He's standing behind me asking for more. He's definitely going to some of the TSO Kids series next season.
    I'm also sad to hear that we missed the Mahler concert - Dan REALLY wanted to go. Doh! Someday we'll get our act together - won't we?!


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