New York Insider

Mahler Postscript

Albert ImperatoWed 25th May 2011

Talking Mahler with Leif Ove Andsnes

Okay, just about everyone I speak with in the music industry is tired of listening to and talking about Mahler (shame on them!). But I can’t help but add one more post to the deluge.

I had an iChat today with Leif Ove Andsnes (a long time client of my company) and to my surprise much of our talk was about Mahler. Leif Ove was in Paris for a performance of Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto, but Mahler was on his mind because he’ll soon be performing some of his songs with baritone Matthias Goerne at a few festivals – namely Risør, Salzburg and Verbier. He told me that he watched a DVD recently that had made a huge impression on him and was having a big impact on his current thoughts about Mahler.  That DVD is a Leonard Bernstein “essay” called The Little Drummer Boy (available from Deutsche Grammophon - Amazon), which the composer/conductor and perhaps all-time leading Mahler advocate had put together while in Israel. The purpose of the documentary, among other things, is to consider the question of Mahler’s Jewishness and how it influenced his music and artistic psyche.

I won’t give a detailed account of the essay/documentary, but anyone who loves Mahler’s music would likely get much from it. For me it was like being with an old friend – I did actually know Bernstein personally during my early days in the recording industry, so this feeling was very real to me – to sit there with “Lenny” and have him speak like a great oracle about a subject that he cared about to the depths of his soul. After close to three decades of listening to and obsessing about Mahler’s music, I was happy to hear Lenny showing me just how much more I could learn about the music, but also underlining so many of the obvious reasons I love Mahler’s music so much. A simple line from Lenny such as ‘Mahler was an eminently theatrical composer – he knew exactly how to begin a movement, and exactly how to end it’ – was hardly a revelation, but Lenny’s inimitable delivery – part professor, part shaman, part favourite uncle – made it feel like it was just that. Bernstein’s genius talking about music never ceases to amaze, even now.

Leif Ove and I wondered together whether the recent explosion of Mahlermania ran the risk of having the composer’s music overexposed, and we likewise lamented together that poor Papa Haydn (a favorite composer for both of us) would probably never be the subject of such widespread, passionate and extremely public adoration. 

Inspired by my conversation with Leif Ove, and by my viewing of the documentary, I looked on my iPod and found the last of the Mahler recordings that I imported recently but hadn’t listened to yet. It was a live recording with the London Philharmonic and Klaus Tennstedt of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony for EMI Classics (the label is also a client). Having heard a webcast of a Mahler 5 yesterday in a performance that Alan Gilbert (also a client) and the New York Philharmonic gave from Leipzig’s Gewandhaus, I surprised even myself when I decided to hear the piece again so soon. So off I went with Tennstedt’s Mahler 5 for a run in Central Park. I found it to be a gripping performance from first note to last, which made me realise that Tennstedt is one conductor who deserved more attention over the past few weeks as Mahlermania hit full throttle. 

It was twilight time when the third movement of the symphony was pouring through my ear buds, and the accompanying sights of the park at full flower, with people out and about and enjoying a splendid spring evening, filled me with complete joy. 

I finished my jog just as the “Adagietto” started, and hearing the music as I walked around the neighbourhood in the last wisp of daylight filled me with a sense of utter serenity and gratefulness. It was a wonder to think that Mahler himself probably strolled around this very neighbourhood.

I wanted to hear the fifth and final movement at full volume, so I waited until I was back in the apartment and slapped in on the stereo. As the joyful roar of the finale built to its final climax, and my goose bumps started to rise, I hoped that I would never be one of those people who got tired of listening to Mahler.

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