Marin Alsop: Never has Mahler’s Sixth been more fitting

The darkest symphony in the canon – that’s what the Baltimore Symphony conductor thinks America needs to hear right now:

Today, as we have become immune to shock, where nothing seems too extreme and where hyperbole rules, Mahler and his Sixth Symphony seem to fit right in…

In the Sixth, Mahler seems to be searching for meaning in a rapidly changing, complex world while worrying about potential annihilation by fanatical forces. Sound familiar?

Read on here.

marin alsop Chris Christodoulou_17

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  • General rule for classical musicians when it comes to non-musical matters:

    Sit down, and shut up. ALWAYS. This is sooo embarrassing.

    • If you look at musicians and composers throughout history, very few were ever completely removed from worldly or political matters–and were often directly motivated by them. Not all of them were afforded free speech.

    • The same recommendation might be extended to non-musicians pontificating about what musicians should say or not say. But then, they’d most likely start squawking about free speech, and that brings its own embarrassment with it.

    • The same recommendation might be extended to non-musicians pontificating about what musicians should say or not say. But then, they’d most likely start squawking about free speech, and that brings its own embarrassment with it.

      • Yes, it’s so embarrassing when people invoke their rights to free speech and especially convenient for the Thought Police of the Left who want them to think and do what they think is right. You’ve just got to hate that democratic thing; so many undesirables (deplorables) holding their own opinions. What’s the world coming to? So, so tiresome and it all gives me a headache when I’m trying to work out the texture of my latte.

  • Oh, good grief. What preening, overwrought nonsense. Mahler’s Sixth may presage certain tragic events in the composer’s life and if one wanted to get all hi-falutin you could say it contains premonitions of the coming catastrophe of World War I but it has nothing to do with the election of a buffoonish media personality to the Presidency of the United State. I take a back seat to no one when it comes to loathing Donald Trump but let’s get real here – he’s not our Mussolini, he’s our Silvio Berlusconi and in no way does he merit such self-regarding sanctimony.

    • Silvio Berluscone might not have been a murderous tyrant, but he has done terrible damage to a whole generation of Italians who grew up with completely twisted notions about issuses such as e.g. gender roles and politics.

      • Oh, I don’t know; I tend to think the Mafia had that down pat much much earlier. And our naive immigration policies spread that ‘joy’ to the rest of the western world.

    • I agree, Mahler was not writing a New York Times (or National Review for that matter) editorial. Alsop’s observations diminish the work.

      • Then maybe just close your eyes and listen. I heard her conduct the 6th with the Colorado Symphony and it was a memorable performance.

  • I read the article and it references modern times, not necessarily the past week. She talks of personal struggle not political, something much deeper than the hand wringing over recent political events. It was an excellent interpretation and the orchestra sounded great.

  • ‘potential annihilation by fanatical forces’

    Or, in the real world, losing a democratic election. They just don’t get it, these high priests of the politically correct, do they?

    • Please elaborate on how 25% of eligible voters being enough to put this buffoon in the White House represents democracy.

      • Ah, trying to get out of it on a technicality, are we? He won more of the electoral college votes than she did. In other words, he won by the particular democratic rules of that nation.

        If you don’t like that, then I guess you’re within your rights, but it’s the same system that Obama won under, and I don’t suppose you complained about it then.

        • Electoral college is not democracy. It is a gerrymander. As for your other point, Obama won the popular vote and the electoral college, both times. But a mere 25% elected this man? That is not democracy. It’s a perversion of it. 100% of eligible voters voting and one vote one .value. Then we call it democracy

          • We don’t call it a democracy. We call it a republic.

            “A Mrs. Powel of Philadelphia asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” With no hesitation whatsoever, Franklin responded, ‘A republic, if you can keep it.'”

            And so it is. A democratic republic, but a republic nonetheless.

            As for how we could allow 25% of voters to elect a president, I guess the answer is that you can’t count votes that aren’t cast.

            And those nations who compel their citizens to vote are rarely model democracies.

          • Australia not a model democracy? Are you serious? Only major western economy not to go into recession during GFC, gun laws the envy of the world- no mass shootings since 1997, remind me again, how many gun deaths in the US in that time? Yep, compulsory voting just terrible. Universal health care, strong social safety net and nearly 25 continuous years of economic growth. Not perfect of course (i.e. present government) disgraceful treatment of asylum seekers. But you think the US system is better? America’s faux democracy is the laughing stock of the world. Ask anyone who isn’t, and probably most who are, American.

      • This is how; they were accorded the right to vote and they democratically chose not to. Try telling the Chinese all about that.

  • Since (classical, serious) music is non-conceptual, i.e. does not refer to concrete subjects, unless wedded to specific words or situations, it filters the reality of life experience through the personality of the composer and becomes accessible to people in other times, other places becuase made universal, and not subject-specific. It is not the literal premonition of WW I we hear in Mahler VI but premonition of terrible things to happen in general, so that it can be associated with any subject that invokes such emotional experiences. So, Mrs Alsop is right.

  • Can I be controversial? As a devoted Mahler lover for quite literally all my life, I think the 6th, along with the patchy 7th is his worst symphony. Based purely on the strength of the ideas I think he was quite uninspired at the time of writing, and resorted to formalism and sensationalist effect. In particular if I had written that lousy melody we know as ‘Alma’s Theme’ it would have gone straight in the bin. Compared to the inspiration of the 9th, Das Lied, the 3rd & 4th, the Adagio of the 10th… not in the same league. I also predict that some time in the future I will completely change my mind and decide that it is a work of genius.

    • You’ve just perfectly described my own views about all Mahler’s symphonies. Even the great Kleiber called them “unruly” or some such unflattering moniker.

    • The reason that the ‘Alma theme’ is so strangely unconvincing, is that its source of inspiration was quite unconvincing. Obviously he had fallen for her looks but instead found a terrible woman inside, planning to bully him out of his mind. So he fled into his work at the opera and when he could not, he locked himself up in his composing hut. Looking out over the lake, it must have been quite hard to think about a lovely second theme group in celebration of his lovely wife.

      • Alma Mahler held the affections of a great number of famous and artistic men. And she was a close friend of Berg. I don’t understand it myself; perhaps she was sensational in the cot!!!

        • It seems that in the bottled-up prude atmosphere of early 20C Vienna, a beautiful, cultured, well-dressed and very talented woman with outrageous hats, who did not quite follow conventional female behavior patterns, pushed all the neurotic buttons of talented, frustrated men desperately seeking a muse figure. So, ms Alma got the time of her life.

  • ==The darkest symphony in the canon – that’s what….America needs to hear right now:

    Huh ? How about some Mozart to restore our spirits.

    • On second thought, that seems to be better indeed. But the fear is, that Mozart would – to some people – sound celebratory. With Mahler VI you are safe on that point.

      On the other hand, if you feel somber and desperate about ‘the world’, in the widest sense, including the trumpist sense, Mahler VI will not make you feel much better. The best you can hope for, is that you know that such feelings about the world are universal and timeless, and we are still here, for now.

      If this would be a bit meagre, one can always play a Mozart or Brahms CD afterwards, inconspicuously and alone, at home. (Alternative option: Brahms IV combines grim despair with ordered and constructive beauty, which strangely enough has some uplifting effect.)

  • She has also conducted the 1st, 3rd, and 5th with the BSO at Strathmore/Meyerhoff in the last couple of years. The 6th was programmed at least a year ago, and coincidentally was scheduled to be performed the right after the election results were final, regardless of the winner.

  • Mahler’s sixth symphony is totally autobiographical and has nothing to do with the first World War, nuclear bombs or Margaret Thatcher etc

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