Snakebite

By LLOYD SCHWARTZ  |  March 3, 2010

Mahler has also been getting overplayed. I miss the days when a Mahler symphony was an occasion. The Boston Philharmonic Orchestra's Ben Zander is one of the conductors most responsible both for playing too much Mahler and for making Mahler an occasion. His Mahler Ninth at Jordan Hall on Saturday was decidedly an occasion: deeply moving, and in the ländler section of the second movement quite comic. He and the orchestra seemed both to know and to discover where they were going, to experience every moment, sometimes layering more than one event or attitude at a time: tenderness and nastiness, intensity and relaxation. For this performance, Zander divided the BPO's two violin sections, and the beautiful second-violin opening theme in the first movement had a stronger identity coming from the front of the orchestra. The Rondo Burleske, a manic fugue, nearly got derailed, but that was part of the excitement, and in the final Adagio, I held my breath at the profound quietude and heartbreaking sense of resignation. Next year is the centennial of Mahler's death. How many Mahler performances will also be an occasion?

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