Runnicles’ Mahler 6

Tonight’s Toronto Symphony concert led by guest conductor Donald Runnicles was an affirmation of the value of live music.

There are things you do in person that you simply can’t capture on video let alone on CDs.  Tonight we heard Mahler’s 6th symphony.

Donald Runnicles close up (@Jag Gundu)

Conductor Donald Runnicles leading the Toronto Symphony (photo: Jag Gundu)

Mahler was an opera conductor, a theatre animal.  It sounds odd to say but it struck me, this composer who was capable of keeping audiences sitting spellbound for symphonies that often exceeded an hour in length.

How? Several of his symphonies are as arresting visually as they are musically.

  • In his 2nd Symphony we hear something like the trumpets of Judgment Day, calling the dead to arise, another small pack of brass sounding like ghosts marching in formation, and then an unaccompanied chorus announcing and affirming The Resurrection.
  • In his 3rd we hear a mysterious offstage serenade from what could be a heavenly instrument.

Tonight’s concert featured Mahler’s 6th Symphony, one of his most theatrical and arresting works. At times we hear

  • bells as though from afar
  • cow bells
  • a powerful hammer stroke on a drum

The theatrical visuals include the sudden exodus as players tippy-toe off the stage to work their magic in the wings. Or we watch a percussionist do his best Thor impersonation, lifting an improbable looking mallet.  Of course the real Thor takes no orders from a conductor, so the analogy fails in this case.

And Mahler fills this symphony with exquisite solo writing. At this point late in the tenure of Peter Oundjian one can’t help wondering whether each new guest at the podium might also be a suitor romancing this talented young orchestra.  That the TSO responded so well is certainly a good sign.

To begin, Runnicles led the TSO in Abigail Richardson-Schulte’s Step Up¸ another in the ongoing series of Sesquis, the 2 minute fanfares in celebration of Canada’s 150th Anniversary.  I’d call Step Up a friendly & whimsical creation, one that sidles up to us rather than blaring loudly, a fascinating series of textures that emerge in short order, making a lovely impression, leaving me wishing it could have gone on longer than its prescribed two minute length (but that’s the nature of the Sesqui commissions).

The TSO are back next week, first with the film Home Alone in concert, followed by three Best of Tchaikovsky concerts led by guest conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson.

keri_lynn

Keri-Lynn WIlson (photo: Daria Stravs Tisu)

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