Beauty of Mahler

The Los Angeles Philharmonic made its premiere performance at the Mondavi Center, conducted by music director and conductor Gustavo Dudamel. Only thirty-five years of age, Dudamel is one of the youngest directors of the LA Phil and to take the symphony on tour to perform the ninth and final symphony by Gustavo Mahler. Dudamel and the LA Phil are currently touring the West Coast, and I was fortunate enough to witness the robust symphony perform under the ¬†internationally renowned Maestro Dudamel himself. Usually when a symphony and their performance receives high praise from music critiques, I go in with too many expectations and am disappointed. However, I was nowhere near disappointed, just as nothing had prepared music critique of the New York Times Mark Swed “the sheer effusiveness of this performance.”

Mahler 9 is revolved around a farewell to this earth, and each movement has themes and subthemes of death. The first movement starts off with the second and first violins, followed by the harp which created angelic tunes that carried out into the beautiful hall. The brass continued the gorgeous melodies, then the woodwinds. The second movement takes on an easygoing theme of the Landler, an Austrian folk dance. It’s followed by the Rondo-Burlesk of the third movement, a sharp contrast and more dissonant theme than the previous.

The last movement, the Adagio (also the movement in the embedded Soundcloud link), was probably my favorite movement of the four, not just for the intense passages that it had showcasing the “final farewell” and accepting death, but also because of the performance shown by the orchestra and conductor. Swed described it perfectly — “Dudamel sculpted [the last movement] for beauty. Although he maintained a strong line throughout, he stopped time and again to smell the roses, lingering in exquisite sounds of fields, the kind you find only in modern music.”

Watching the musicians perform with such energy and intensity under the energy of Dudamel kept me on the edge of my seat. Granted the musicians are professional and have years of experience, I was still blown away by how well the musicians played with each other. I have seen performances in which only a certain percentage of the musicians were alive to all of what they were playing, but I think it’s safe to say that 95% of all musicians were, what Swed says, “taking expression to the outer limits”.

I was also impressed with the audience. Symphonies are written with several movements, and in between these movements it’s courtesy to not applaud. In all previous performances I have seen, there has been small applaud in between movements because generally people don’t know that you’re not supposed to clap. However, not a single person applauded during the piece which added to the intensity of the performance and added an extra wow-factor. Other performances, such as opera or ballet, encourage the audience to applaud after a solo performance or whenever they think is appropriate. Many people, musicians and non musicians, don’t know that during movements there should be no applause. Next time if you find yourself at one of these performances, take note of the program and see if there are any movements in the pieces. Even if you’re not an avid classical music listener like me, you might give the impression of being one.