qatsi (qatsi) wrote,

Mahler 3, Haitink 50 not out; or, A Good Death

Some years ago (it looks like it was 2011), I decided I wouldn't go to see another Prom conducted by Bernard Haitink. He looked frail and I felt he deserved a decent retirement. This year I decided to U-turn on that: he's plainly not going to retire, and for his fiftieth anniversary concert at the Proms, he conducted the LSO in Mahler's Symphony No. 3.

As you would expect for big name performers, there was a long queue; the combination of this and the late night David Bowie Prom was curious, but there were quite a few people going to both. I decided not to go to the late night concert; it's been quite an intensive week at work and it makes for a very late finish, plus I wasn't convinced I would want to follow the Mahler with anything else.

Unlike the previous performance of Mahler 3 I'd seen at the Proms, this one was full, and I was about eight rows back, further than I'd have liked, but in the realm of "mustn't grumble". I noted some differences in the performance: for example, the offstage players sounded as though they were up in the gallery, though I couldn't see them, and an absence of applause between movements. There were also some similarities: antiphonal seating, and the incongruously rapid cries of "Bravo!" and applause at the end. Musically, I think most of my thoughts from last time applied here too: the directly observable references to essentially all of Mahler's symphonic output. The fourth movement is possibly the most sublime Mahler ever wrote: on this occasion mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly was the soloist, dressed in gold (for Haitink's fiftieth anniversary, perhaps) that reminded me rather of Klimt's Portraif of Adele Bloch-Bauer, an appropriately Viennese touch. Of course, so much of Mahler is about death: if the second is about resurrection, the sixth is death following an heroic struggle, and the ninth is death wallowing in self-pity, the end of the third is perhaps, if such a thing exists, a "Good Death": accepting and reflective, without arrogance, of satisfying accomplishment. I fear that Haitink will be like Alistair Cooke, working until he is no longer able, and that will be at the very end; but what a way to go.
Tags: music
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