Mahler’s 2nd with Seiji

Two notes on last night’s performance of Mahler’s Second (“Resurrection”) Symphony at Tanglewood with Seiji Ozawa at the helm.

First, I should know better than to try to make a critical analysis of any work before I actually sing it. A tenor near me was lamenting his difficulty in hitting the high notes at the end of the last movement, and I responded, “There are, I think, some works that are so transcendent that they even transcend the ability of the performer to finish them.” Of course, in the actual performance, it was my voice that cracked on the first fortissimo B-flat on the penultimate page of the choral score. As Monty Python would say, so much for pathos.

Second: I entered the weekend with some uncertainty about Maestro Ozawa’s conducting approach, having gotten accustomed to Maestro Levine’s undemonstrative, understated style. I still have some reservations after the concert. Seiji’s approach to conducting is dynamic and evolving, and I thought at some points that he was placing too much emphasis on emotional content and not enough on precision. But there were decided benefits to his approach too. His dance (and that’s the only thing to call it) on the podium demonstrated to the audience how the music should be interpreted emotionally just as it gave guidance to the orchestra and chorus on how to interpret it musically.

And besides, it’s hardly fair to take points off for precision when he was conducting the entire massive symphony from memory. In fact, I am humbled and shamed about all the times I complained about singing from memory, as he was not only cuing every section perfectly but also mouthing the words to the chorus at the same time, all without opening his score.