My problems with Mahler’s symphonies are that they are too short and that they can’t be played perpetually – the concerts always have an end, or I always have to stop my IPod, take off my earbuds and do something else. Every time Mahler’s symphonies were played, Toronto Symphony Orchestra would quote him in the program notes: “ The symphony must be like the world. It must contain everything.” Whether his symphonies do contain “everything” is open to debate. In any case, Mahler’s world is a world I don’t mind living in. If Beethoven’s symphonies always require ultimate attentiveness, Mahler’s (with the exception of “Resurrection”) invite you to walk with him in  the mountains of Austria. All the climaxes, like those peaks, are already at sight in the very beginning – you will go with him to the tops, or even go further to the cloudy sky, but you always know you will be there, eventually. Mahler dissolves human dramas in the quivering of cosmos (drama-wise, his symphonies are shorter than Schubert’s Der Erlkönig) – you will have enough time facing the world in all the solitude you need.

So, listening to Mahler’s symphonies is not a social affair despite the fact that they always require a huge orchestra and sometimes many soloists in performance. The conductor Peter Oundjian made the mistake to introduce the Symphony No. 7 before April 29’s concert. He talked about how cheerful this music was, which I believe created unrealistic expectations among some audience members. In the end, the concert produced the third largest early withdrawal in recent memory (the largest was Messian’s Turangalila; the second was Shanghai Symphony Orchestra’s performance of  Iris dévoilée by Chen Qigang, a student of Messian).  Some people may find Mahler’s grotesqueness-tinted lyricism unnerving. They should have waited till the end.


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