Super Bowl maestro is just as good at Mahler

Super Bowl maestro is just as good at Mahler


norman lebrecht

February 07, 2014

Rob Mathes was telling us the other day how he orchestrated the Star-Spangled Banner for the big game, and received no credit for it from the NFL.

Quite by chance we discover that he’s also the ears behind the new chamber version of Mahler’s second symphony, conducted by Gilbert Kaplan and intended for towns and ensembles that can’t afford the full shebang.

It’s a terrific arrangement, jointly done by Rob and Gil. On record, you can turn up the volume, shut your eyes and imagine it’s the full shebang.

mahler kaplan small

Rob, an Emmy-winning composer, is the son of orchestral musicians and a considerable Mahler freak.

rob mathes




  • RalphW says:

    His Star-Spangled Banner arrangement didn’t sound as good, it was awkward and painful to follow.

  • S says:

    I wonder how many meters he changed in the Mahler…

  • David Boxwell says:

    Rob Mathes is the NEW Erwin Stein!

  • brit hume says:

    Someone finally made the Star-Spangled Banner shine at the Super Bowl. Bravo Rob Mathes and of course, Renee Fleming, the New Jersey Symphony and the Military Choir assembled for the occasion!

  • Anon says:

    I agree that the composer should have received credit for the arrangement, but honestly it wasn’t that great. Leave the national anthem in 3/4! Those poor people trying to sing along…

  • DavidK says:

    I am surprised anyone would want to claim responsibility for that arrangement.

    • Martin says:

      Me too.

      Such performances are reasons why I stayed out of opera houses for the first 14 years or so of my adult life.

      The opera world failed to use this huge stage.

  • Michael Schaffer says:

    So it took you 14 years to figure out that this kind of stuff has nothing to do with what actually goes on in actual opera houses?

  • Dennis says:

    Here’s a review of the actual concert at which the disc was recorded. To say it is not a glowing review would be an understatement.

    I’m baffled why so many professional reviewers and orchestra directors still lavish so much praise on Kaplan, who seems to be execrated by actual orchestral musicians. Are they just afraid to offend him for fear his money will stop flowing their way? Are some of the reviewers actually bought? As the trombonist at the New york Phil, Finlayson, wrote a few years back, Kaplan is basically an imposter. He’s play-acting at being a conductor, having learned to mime most of the right moves, but lacking any real musical depth or command.

  • Laurie Rogers says:

    I have known Rob Mathes for virtually my entire life. He is immensely talented and passionate about his work, and a consummate professional on every level. He has explained why he – and Ms Fleming – chose the mixed meters for the anthem arrangement, but in the end it is just that – a choice. If you prefer a straight 3/4 arrangement, fine, but I find the malicious carping in the comments here plainly catty, unwarranted and unproductive. The anthem was beautifully done and how wonderful for those of us in the classical world to – FINALLY – feel represented on such a highly visible stage. Deep breaths, all.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      If this or that choice for how to make this arrangement is, as you put it yourself, “just that – a choice”, then finding that choice or others not good is an opinion about that choice – just that – an opinion. Calling people who disagree with your clearly not unbiased opinion (“I have known Rob Mathes for virtually my entire life”) names and dismissing their opinions as “malicious carping” is childish and, to use your own word choices, unwarranted and unproductive.

      I don’t think that “the classical world” as a whole was in any way “represented” by Fleming appearing at this event either. It was just an opera singer, a really good and very well known one, sure, but still just one individual singer who appeared in this event singing a kitschy arrangement of one song, that’s it. That had nothing much to do with “the world of classical music”. More with overblown displays of chauvinism and militarism.

  • Richard Schneider says:

    I have played other arrangements by Mathes and he strikes me as a real pro who knows how to make an ensemble sound. The National Anthem arrangement as I heard it, made a rather non-descript impression, and I suspect this was due to the mix. And there is no excuse for not crediting the New Jersey Symphony and Rob Mathes.