Review: LA Phil Presents Mahler 9th Symphony – Beauty in the Midst of Despair

Gustav Mahler

This last Martin Luther King’s weekend was marked by a Saturday night with torrential rain during which many Angelenos decided to stay home. But not Mahler fans! The Walt Disney Concert Hall was packed with classical music lovers who decided to brave the drive to enjoy the brilliant Michael Tilson Thomas conduct Mahler’s Ninth Symphony. And it was worth every drop!

In 1909 Gustav Mahler composed his 9th Symphony, an expression of despair and hopelessness due to three major twists a couple of years prior — the traumatic death of his four-year-old daughter; the inability, as a Jew, to adapt to Vienna’s anti-Semitic elements of society opposing his appointment as the Director of The Vienna Hofoperand (Vienna State Opera, an opera house) which resulted in his moving to New York; and finally, the grim diagnostic of a heart condition that would kill him four years later. The heavy weight of loss and the inevitability of death were transformed by Mahler into this masterpiece.

The precision of Michael Tilson Thomas (a 12-time Grammy ® Award winner who has conducted the major orchestras of Europe and the U.S.) and the formidable Los Angeles Philharmonic transported us to the joys and sorrows of life, making us feel the anguish that Mahler’s might have felt knowing that his end was near. This rollercoaster of emotions finally reached peace through the delicate and slow silencing of violins that concludes the Symphony, an elegy to the end of life itself. The concluding silence was met by a well deserved standing ovation!

— Rosane Grimberg

Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor (MTT is the Musical Director Laureate of the San Francisco Symphony, Conductor Laureate of the London Symphony Orchestra, and Co-Founder and Artistic Director Laureate of the New World Symphony)