San Francisco Symphony
Westminster Symphony Choir
Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor
Katarina Karnéus, mezzo-soprano
Laura Claycomb, soprano
Mahler, Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection"
Ah, Mahler 2. I should put a disclaimer at the top of this review: it’s almost my favorite piece ever (that goes to Opus
MTT has been perfecting his Mahler over the past decade in San Francisco, taking the best of Bernstein’s interpretations and leaving some of the fatty excess behind. But before I delve into the performance, I want to talk briefly about something I saw at the Neue Galerie earlier Friday evening. Promenading through their pictures at the Otto Dix exhibition (see what I did there?) I discovered a series of drawings by Dix titled Tod und Auferstehung. Now, in 1888, the year of Mahler’s Second, resurrection in
In the wake of humiliating defeat in World War I, the prospect of a heroic death and a mystical, quasi-Christian resurrection was not so simple (not that I am calling Mahler 2 simple). Instead we get Lustmord. I'm not sure if Dix's six drawings depict a specific narrative. But we have suicide (via hanging), pregnancy, sex murder, war, more war, and finally the hint of resurrection. Rather than a single, titanic hero put to death and brought back to life, Dix creates a collage of death representing the destruction of Europe, the wasteland of Germany, and the inanity of war. No life breathes in the belly of the pregnant woman, as she stands over a severed head. Dix is known for his utter crassness in detailing the most horrid visuals of wartime, and these six drawings are no exception. Death, as conceived by Dix, overturns Mahler's affirming tranfiguration. It's either a pathetic self-induced strangulation, a sadistic sex murder, or bloody and honor-less war. One can imagine Mahler's hero in some kind of heroic battle, or maybe even stabbed in the back like Siegfried; for Dix, there are no heroes.
Unfortunately, the sustained hum of the first choral entrance was matched in volume by our favorite New York coughing and rustling. It's amazing the sheer density of coughs this audience can put it in just a minute or two. But the last ten minutes were certifiably awesome, and the hero definitely got Resurrected. This is music that I can't describe because it moves me so deeply; I just cannot come up with the words. So I will simply say that MTT and the orchestra nailed it.
The Otto Dix paintings are courtesy of the Galerie Nierendorf website, and can be viewed fully here.