Monday, November 03, 2014

Mahler's Seventh: All The Cows Go To Heaven

The San Francisco Symphony under Michael Tilson Thomas last week performed Mahler's thorny and difficult Seventh Symphony, a sprawling, 90-minute beast. I had never heard the piece live before and was facing the performance with a little trepidation, but exited a convert.

After Saturday evening's performance, I also became an even greater admirer of the San Francisco Symphony when they are playing at their best.

You never know which Michael Tilson Thomas is going to show up in a Mahler performance: the dull, meticulous, drawn-out-phrases MTT or the free, lively and wild version of the same conductor. For last week's performances it was the latter character on the podium, one of the best evenings of conducting I have heard from him in 20 years. The music is fabulously eccentric and mashes together themes and rhythms into all manner of complexities, expressed through everything from a full, huge orchestra to a solo mandolin.

The buoyant last movement includes cowbells and church bells among dozens of other instruments. This caused my musically sophisticated concert companion to confess that though he was impressed with the skill of Mahler's composing, the symphony itself had left him in a state of utter confusion. "It sounded like, now, all the cows go to heaven."

No comments: