Conductor: Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Mahler: Symphony No. 2 in C Minor, "Resurrection"
Sarah Connolly: Mezzo-soprano
Angela Meade: Soprano
Westminster Symphonic Choir
When you get a call from Carnegie Hall warning you that there will be no late seating, and then when you see countless people desperately looking for tickets outside the venue, you know for sure that you have a big night ahead of you. And it was, with The Philadelphia Orchestra scheduled to perform Gustav Mahler's magnificent "Resurrection" symphony under the baton of its ever-ebullient music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the still remarkably young man who for the past few years has been enjoying a meteoric international career collaborating with many prestigious orchestras and opera companies.
So after a long, late and uneven night at The Met with Aida on Thursday night, my mom and I were more than ready to wrap up the week with an extensive philosophical journey on what happened to be the creepiest night of the year. This would not be an evening for the faint of hearts, but then again, when the going gets tough, the tough get going.
There is so much going on during the approximate 90 minutes of Mahler's Symphony No. 2 that I always find it nearly impossible for me to take it all in. So I can't even imagine being the poor maestro who has to stay in constant control of the huge orchestra, the large chorus, two female soloists, and the organ. But Yannick Nézet-Séguin looked unfazed by the challenge ahead of him and approached it with his trademark spontaneous enthusiasm and dedicated musicianship. Attempting to tame the mighty "Resurrection" in Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium has to be a milestone in any conductor’s career, and he was manifestly ready to seize the moment.
The performance opened with its famously intense, dark evocations of death before spending the rest of the score wondering what was coming next. Whether fiercely stirring the already potent turbulences or delicately modulating the more contemplative moments, Nézet-Séguin confidently guided the fired up orchestra, which was by all accounts totally devoted to the mission at hand. The path chosen to accomplish it was clear, the ever-precarious balance among the various parts generally well-maintained, and a palpable sense of awe at the heroic undertaking never left the capacity-filled concert hall. The playing was vividly colorful, urgent yet nuanced. In short, just plain thrilling.
As if the endless peaks and valleys of the tumultuous instrumental composition were not enough, the two female soloists eventually rose up and contributed some truly inspired singing. English mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly was discreet and meticulous, American soprano Angela Meade was luminous and passionate. The uplifting power of the human voice only expanded when the outstanding Westminster Symphonic Choir finally made its exquisitely hushed entrance before concluding the performance with a gloriously explosive grand finale, which immediately prompted a well-deserved thunderous ovation. The mission had been fully accomplished.