OK, so the only person who's been gutsy enough to send me their reviews of Mahler symphonies so far is Robert, and once again, he has come through! He flew out to San Francisco to see Mahler's 8th symphony, and apparently had a good time. I'm amazed and proud and envious, all at the same time, for Robert's spur of the moment decision to go see a Mahler symphony a few states away, and of course felt great affection for him when he said it didn't matter what his colleagues said about his trip--it's Mahler, after all. Anyway, I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did!
In keeping with the spirit of the fearless Chantal, this review is more about experiences than discussing the details of tempi, timbre or interpretation. For a real, professional review, check out reviews by the SF Gate or the Oakland Tribune.
On a spur of the moment decision, I purchased a ticket for the last concert of the San Francisco Symphony's performance of Mahler 8. The plan was to arrive at SF around noon and fly back home about twelve hours later (with somehow squeezing in a concert and a some sights around town). Most of my coworkers and friends didn't quite understand the desire to fly out of town for a concert, but it didn't matter--I was going to see Mahler.
This performance was the SFS's last symphony in their Mahler cycle recording project. There are still one or two vocal works remaining, but this is their last symphony to record (including Das Lied). It's clear that the community loves their orchestra and this project. I arrived at the hall 80 minutes before the concert started and there was already a large throng of people waiting to get inside. By the time the pre-concert talk started an hour before the concert, there were at least a couple hundred people in the hall.
After the talk was over, I proceeded to walk to my seat and saw three music stands nearby. The three off-stage trombones were positioned about 20 feet from my seat. Whereas some people next to me were nervous being so close to them, as a wannabe trombonist, I was excited to see it. It's not to say that all the people in my section were trombone-phobic or just there to make out. Two people I seated next to me were big Mahler fans. One person totally understood my trip out to SF and mentioned that he's planning to catch The Ring production by the Seattle Opera next year. He commented that if the NY Philharmonic were to perform Mahler 8, then he would travel out to see that. I told him that the NY Phil is indeed performing this next June as part of Lorin Maazel's last concerts as the NY Phil's Music Director and he jotted this down in his program so that he could buy tickets when he got home. The other person sitting next to me brought his own score for Symphony No. 8 and followed along during the second movement (but not the first).
As Michael Tilson Thomas walked to the podium, the entire audience erupted in applause. The community loves him as much as he loves them. Interestingly enough, Thomas brought his hands up to start the symphony but instead of giving a downbeat, he smiled and took a deep breath. Lest you think anyone was relaxing, before you knew it, the 90 minute experience began like a screaming baseball off the bat of a juiced up Barry Bonds. Thomas' enthusiasm and love for Mahler was clear to anyone and it seemed like he wished he could sing along with the soloists.
Mahler once stated that this music was practically dictated to him by a higher power. This concert was certainly a spiritual experience. Once the final notes died out in Davies Hall, the audience immediately rose to its feat and roared in appreciation for a unbelievable performance. The ovation lasted for at least 15 minutes with numerous curtain calls and bows. The look on the faces of members of the orchestra was one of relief. I'm sure there was some sadness as well that their seven year journey was nearing its end.
The recording from these concerts is scheduled to be released sometime next fall. I will be ordering this as soon as it comes out and based off of the SFS's previous Mahler recordings, I know the engineers will do a fantastic job in getting the concerts onto disc. Hopefully, the engineers will also be able to get all of the coughs out.