Last Saturday, Dec. 5th, Dave and I attended the Detroit Symphony Orchestra concert featuring Gustav Mahler’s second symphony, “The Resurrection.” We had been looking forward to it since it was announced. Now, the Chicago Symphony played it in 2008, and we went to that, and when the CSO plays Mahler, it stays played, you might say. But the DSO did an amazing job, and if you ask me, it was just a little better. I’ll explain why later.
The first piece on the program was a short work composed by the DSO’s music director, Leonard Slatkin. Titled “Kinah”, it is an elegy to his parents, who were a noted violinist and cellist in the Hollywood of the 1940s and 50s. If you saw a film from that period, you heard them almost certainly. They were about to make their debut performance together, playing Brahms’ double concerto, when Leonard’s father died unexpectedly. “Kinah” is thus based on bits of themes from the Brahms work, all fragmented. To make this even more special, Slatkin’s brother, Fred Zlotkin (who is principal cellist for the New York City Ballet), played their mother’s cello, and the DSO’s associate concertmaster played violin with him in the wings. Orchestra Hall has the best acoustics in wings that I know. Anyway, I got weepy. How could one not?
So then there was the Mahler. If you are unfamiliar, the very high-level view is, the first three movements are fairly chaotic (for a late 19th century work), but the start of the fourth movement finds a redemption that carries through the fourth and fifth movements, at first softly, building to thunderously. This is done with not only a very large orchestra but with a chorus, in this case the Wayne State University Chorus augmented with additional singers. I held it together till the fifth movement, but the climax overpowered reason and it got very damp suddenly. (A certain friend was verklempt long before that.) We left the hall unable to make sentences.
Why do I think this performance was better than the CSO’s? First, of course the CSO performance was ne plus ultra and was very special. The edge for the DSO’s performance comes from the building. At a late point, there is a small chorale of instruments (brasses and a timpani) that plays offstage. In Chicago, they played in the balcony. In Detroit, they played (I think) in the lobby, and was very bright yet definite in its space. It was like a call summoning … well, what the work is meant to summon. It was breathtaking.
So, it was pretty good. 10/10, would hear again.