For the penultimate concerts of the BSO's 2015-2016 season, Andris Nelsons leads Mahler's Ninth Symphony, the work with which he made his debut with the orchestra in 2011, at Carnegie Hall. The composer's last completed work, the Ninth is a stunningly moving piece that has been interpreted as a meditation on death. On the boundary between the Romantic and the modern eras, it is doubtless one of the most beautiful symphonies in the literature.Of course, whether it is "one of the most beautiful symphonies in the literature" is a matter of opinion, and you can judge for yourself.
The Globe reviewer gives a bit more detail about the conductor's first appearance with the orchestra, conducting this piece, five years ago. Overall the review is favorable. The lengthier review in the Boston Musical Intelligencer finds more fault with the performance, while giving more information about the piece. Still, for a full description you have to go to the program notes.
The BMInt reviewer had his criticism of the way the first movement was played. I'm not familiar with the piece, so I don't know if it was how it's supposed to be, but I didn't get a sense of development in that movement: there seemed to be good playing, and there were interesting musical themes, but somehow it didn't seem to cohere. But I really liked the rest of it — especially the fourth movement — and at the end I was ready to shout, "Bravo!" but I had to wait because Maestro Nelsons held the audience in silence for what seemed an impossibly long time after the last, quiet notes faded away. Kudos to the audience for all respecting his body language as he held his arms motionless. (Aside: Tamara Smirnova, associate concertmaster; Cathy Basrak, associate principal viola; Martha Babcock, associate principal cello; and Rachel Childers, second horn, all had the night off. This put associate concertmaster Alexander Velinzon, Wesley Collins, Sato Knudsen, and fourth horn Jason Snider in the second chairs of their sections. Jason Snider leapfrogged Michael Winter because the second and fourth horns generally have lower lines and first and third, higher. What's more, associate principal horn Richard Sebring virtually never plays when the principal, James Sommerville is there, so they had to bring in freelancers for fourth horn and side horn. The side horn player has been there a lot, but the fourth was new to me.)
The orchestra will play it again this evening and Tuesday, April 19, at 8:00 p.m. Boston Time (EDT). Tickets may still be available. If you can't get there, you can listen live on the radio or web over WCRB this evening; and they will retransmit the concert at 8:00 on Monday April 25. At their BSO page, there's a link to their podcast, which includes an interview with Maestro Nelsons about the concert.
It's an interesting coincidence that it was filling in for Maestro Levine to conduct this work that led to Maestro Nelsons becoming his successor as Music Director of the BSO. Nelsons might never have been seriously considered for the position if that hadn't happened.