I was at a concert: Another heavy 9th symphony

"...yes, we perform vaginal reconstruction here..."

“…yes, we perform vaginal reconstruction…”

Last month I wept my way through the 9th Symphony of Anton Bruckner in Chicago. Last Saturday I strapped myself in for the other emotionally draining 9th Symphony of the decades bridging the gap of the 20th century back at “home,” a term I find myself using with more and more mental air quotes. This was the fourth Mahler symphony I’ve heard the local band and conductor Michael Stern perform (along with numbers 1, 4, and 6). As a matter of general principle I would say that my impression of Stern’s Mahler conducting is quite favorable, and the orchestra has largely proven themselves worthy of high praise. The performance of the 9th may have been the weakest of the four, but that is not to suggest that it was without merit. Continue reading

10 Best: Symphony movements, no. 4


Symphony no 7, mvt. 1 by Gustav Mahler

How do you choose just one Mahler movement when literally 100% of them are the shit? I could have put the movements in a hat and just drawn one and went with it. And perhaps I’ll look back and regret not choosing the scherzo of the Fifth or the finale of the Ninth or Part 1 of the Eighth or the Adagio of the Fourth or…Jesus. So why the Seventh, arguably Mahler’s least understood and probably least popular completed symphony (see how those caveats allowed me to scrape by the Tenth and Das Lied? Smooth!)? Continue reading

10 Best: Symphony movements, no. 5


Symphony no. 11 ‘The Year 1905’, mvt. 4 by Dmitri Shostakovich

This selection is as likely as any to generate Biblical wailing and gnashing of teeth. Shostakovich has so much brilliant music to choose from for a countdown like this, and you could even try and argue that this isn’t even the finest movement of the symphony it’s actually in. I’m not entirely convinced myself, especially if I were to put the opening movement on right at this moment. And above Brahms? My God, have I lost my mind?

And yet, I don’t know if there is a single more evocative 15 minutes or so in all of music history. THAT’S why it’s here.

Continue reading