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.