Conductor: Marin Alsop
Puts: The City
Mahler: Symphony No. 5 in C-Sharp Minor
Fact is, New York City's music venues do not consult with me before programming their seasons. On the other hand, I do not mind mixing it up, if I must. So after three hours of glorious bel canto at the Met on Saturday afternoon, I found myself walking down Broadway again in the evening, all the way down to Carnegie Hall this time, for a concert by the distinguished Baltimore Symphony Orchestra presenting an intriguing new piece by contemporary American composer Kevin Puts and a popular classical symphony by Viennese master Gustav Mahler, in the company of my visiting mom and a few friends.
Such is the life of a music lover in the Big Apple sometimes, and I would really be ungrateful to complain about such an embarrassment of richness, especially since I had a grand total of four hours in between to regroup after all.
The concert opened with the New York premiere of Kevin Puts' The City, which was co-commissioned to celebrate not only the 125th anniversary of Carnegie Hall, but the 100th anniversary of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra as well. Although it was originally inspired by the city of Baltimore, the score could easily apply to any major city around the world. The film by James Bartolomeo accompanying it was all Baltimore though, and included countless images from the 19th century to the present, mixing panoramic views, historical landmarks, public figures, street scenes and snippets of TV news.
The film was certainly mesmerizing in its own right, but its power was unquestionably duplicated by the vibrant performance of the orchestra, which emphasized the eclecticism, excitement, grittiness and sufferings of the living organism that is a city. The raw, often chaotic, but also attractively melodic music kept the audience on the edge until the evocation of the 2015 riots, at which point the film stopped and the music revolved around a sustained single note, before both eventually resumed with tentative optimism. It may not have been a smooth ride, but it was artistically bold and socially relevant.
After enjoying Mahler's singing celebration Das Lied von der Erde on Thursday evening with the San Francisco Symphony within those same walls, I was very much looking forward to his all-instrumental Symphony No. 5 with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra on Saturday evening. So much Mahler, so little time. Written during an increasingly happy period in the composer’s life, starting with a somber funeral march and ending in a unequivocally triumphant finale, Mahler's sprawling fifth is no easy undertaking.
But the orchestra on the stage was no ordinary music ensemble either, and they proved it by delivering an assuredly virtuosic, skillfully nuanced and emotionally charged performance of it. Marin Alsop's trademark red cuffs were flying all over the podium and the fired-up musicians kept busy dealing with Mahler's profound musings about life and death. It was a long and tortuous journey, but we all eventually left the concert hall in a total state of elation.