Mahler 5, New World Orchestra, and Michael Tilson Thomas

In a previous post I talked about Mahler’s Symphony Nº 5 (click here for that post). Well, I recently experienced it -one experiences more than listens to Mahler.

It had been about four years since I saw Mahler 5 at the Naples Philharmonic. I had also lived it with the great Benjamin Zander and the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra years ago, but this was a whole other level:

The occasion was Michael Tilson Thomas “retirement” concert by his own New World Symphony. Now, some explanations:

Michael Tilson Thomas is a prodigy musician, Mahler savant, who founded the New World Symphony Orchestra in Miami in 1987. He is just one of those visionary geniuses who overflow with talent. He conducted the whole symphony without the sheet music. In fact, his notebook was closed on his stand the whole time in a show of “I have the music, but I do not need it” it was hugely impressive to have around 68 minutes of music for many, many instruments memorized.

The New World Symphony is a place for brilliant young musicians to do a three or four-year fellowship performing lesser-known works, more adventurous programing, and just out there stuff, just do not call it Avant Garde!! This is an orchestra with personality. Every musician is an accomplished and talented artist who is not afraid to make his or her voice heard, it makes a massive difference when you listen to them.

As for Mahler 5, this is the most “Mahlerian” of his works. As I said before, one feels the whole spectrum of emotions on this symphony: from the funeral march that opens, the Adagietto which is arguably one of the loveliest love songs ever, victorious scherzos… it is a roller coaster of emotions.

Well, my dear friend and old student Bill invited me to Michael Tilson Thomas’ farewell concert featuring Gil Shaham playing Joseph Boulogne Concerto n. 9 in G major for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 8 (c. 1775) as an appetizer and then Mahler 5…

As an added bonus, another one of my old students, Margeaux was there playing the violin!! I had not seen her since she graduated high school twelve years ago. I caught up with her at the artists’ exit and managed to say hi and get a picture with her!!

What an amazing experience to see Mahler 5 with Michael Tilson Thomas and his New World Symphony, and with one of my old students in the orchestra! Memorable.

On the importance of culture, art, and beauty.

If we do not take time to appreciate beauty, how are we spending our time? This year has been another remarkable year for art, culture and beauty in Chapel Hill. It is a town with an exquisite taste for that which is beautiful. I have been lucky to enjoy that, even when in the stress of finishing my dissertation I had to miss some great performances.

The season started for me with Juliette Binoche, of whom I have been a big fan since the 80s, playing Sophokles’ Antigone in the T.S. Eliot translation, what a presence! I love strong women (now you know my vote for November 8).

UNC artist-in-residence, violinist Gil Shaham played Bach’s six violin solos. I think I still have goosebumps.

Two days later Shaham played Verdi and Tchaikovsky with the UNC Symphony.

As I become older, I have become more and more selective in my taste, but being a lover of the Portuguese Fado, I went to see Mariza, It was very nice, although I miss the tavernas in Alfama.

Another highlight of the year was listening to Riccardo Muti, directing the Chicago Symphony’s Beethoven’s Fifth and Tchaikovsky’s Fourth. Of course as an encore he regaled us with some Verdi!

In November I saw The Ensemble Intercontemporain play some modern pieces. Pierre Boulez’s sur Incises for three pianos, three harps and three percussion blew my mind. Rock and Rollers talk about Phil Spector’s “Wall of sound”, I have also heard it mentioned about Brian Eno and U2, but this piece is more like a tactile wall of sound, like a curtain of sound. Watch for yourself and tell me what you think in the comments section!

Before the Christmas break, I saw the great Carolina Ballet’s Nutcracker. Don’t mess with tradition.

Gil Shaham performed again in February, playing Prokofiev and Beethoven and I got to go with my composer friend, James.

After defending and delivering my dissertation I managed to catch a few more great events. The evening my dissertation was accepted by the Graduate School, I rode old Rocinante to a nice opera recital in Durham, Talya Lieberman sang a fantastic mix of Handel, Ravel, and Kurt Weill. Brava!

Back at UNC’s Memorial Hall I saw Les Arts Florissants perform a repertoire of Baroque Serious Airs and Drinking Songs. What a brilliant way to say farewell to four great years of jaw dropping concerts at Carolina Performing Arts.

Again with my dear friend James, we saw the North Carolina Symphony perform Handel, Haydn and Stravinsky’s modernist masterpiece The Firebird (1919).

On the theater front I saw not one, but two, Chekhov plays: Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard, which the last time I saw performed was by my students at the Walnut Hill School for the Arts! I also snuck in one musical: Sweeney Todd, lovely Gore!!!

Of course I always support students’ productions and concerts which included two operas, the UNC Baroque Ensemble, the UNC Symphony Orchestra, and the University Chamber Players.

All in all, an extremely rewarding season, the likes of which I do not foresee enjoying in the near future.