Tom Strini

The MSO’s Mahler Third

By - Jun 5th, 2010 12:17 am
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A vast, fantastical chorale, aglow with a unique, ardent warmth ended the Milwaukee Symphony’s performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 Friday night. It rose to a grand and apparently redemptive climax, but Mahler and music director Edo de Waart weren’t quite ready to grant salvation. They built to another big climax, this one laced with a bit of the angst and doubt and troubled harmony of the first and fifth movements.

Edo de Waart

True redemption came only at the very end, in a climax that grew not so much from building and striving, as the previous two had. This one expanded in resonance rather than volume, as chords and timbres bloomed to fill Uihlein Hall and envelope the listener. Release, not effort, won salvation.

Thus does this music create meaning, which these words reflect but dimly. To be in that room was to feel something vibrating in the world in a way beyond words. What was it like? Standing atop Everest? Gazing from the rim of the Grand Canyon? Words fail.

In Edo de Waart’s hands, Mahler’s drama remained taut for the entire 90 minutes, though this symphony abounds in tangents and caprices. Bizarre takes on Hungarian folk dances, for example, keep interrupting the dainty minuet in the second movement. Seconds after Kelley O’Connor intoned Nietzsche’s Romantic awakening from a dark night of the soul in her dark, weighty mezzo, she entered an exchange of child’s rhymes with the innocent voices of the Milwaukee Children’s Choir.

De Waart saw the big contours behind the low growling and rumbling and antic woodwind melodies, the sweet melodies in the strings and the snarls and raspberries of muted trumpets, the blazing blasts of  brass and the charged, hushed moments. The conductor inspired O’Connor, the kids in the MCC, the women of the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus and, most of all the musicians of the MSO to find the places in the big picture.

We all took a long, hard, thrilling journey Friday, and we arrived at the mountaintop weary, glad and somehow changed.

Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 will be performed again at 8 p.m. Saturday and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday. This is the final classics program of the MSO’s 2009-2010 season. For tickets, call the Marcus Center box office, 414-273-7206. For further information, visit the MSO website.

Click here to read an interview with Edo de Waart regarding Mahler’s Third.

0 thoughts on “Review: The MSO’s Mahler Third”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Brilliant performance on Saturday, though the French horns had trouble hitting some notes–as usual. Is that really the norm for an orchestra of this stature?

  2. Anonymous says:


    As a former alumna(ae, a, e, i, us, or sometimes ‘y’… whatever)…and founding member of the Symphony Chorus, I must say that while Lee succeeded Margaret, he has yet to equal let alone surpass her. (It is known among a very few that Margaret had severe misgivings about turning the chorus over to Lee, but there was no other viable choice at the time. And you didn’t hear it from me.) I find the chorus’ performances to be lifeless, even though technically sound. Yes, many voices raised in the same song will always be thrilling, but what about life-affirming? That feeling that if you died at the end of the concert, you would go happily?

    And Maestro De Waart? Fugeddaboutit! I have fallen into the reliable practice of judging a conductor by their interpretations of the 2nd movement of the Beethoven 7th. Dan Forlano wins, hands down. Lukas Foss is a very close second. De Waart? We walked out.

    In my previous life I both sang professionally and taught film criticism. Given the state of both, I guess I’m glad to unemployed. I suppose I have entered the realm of “Old Fartdom.” It is both a blessing and a curse to have been on the music scene since 1974. I experienced the best, and now must suffer the less-than-best.

    Go about your business, sir.


  3. Anonymous says:

    Yes, Kathryn, everything must have been better in the 70s. For one thing, I was living in San Diego. And boy oh boy those great 70s cars!

    But really — Forlano? The man who turned every presto into an adagio?

    Wow. He was so boring I refused to go to the Waukesha Symphony for 10 years. And Foss was either great or totally unprepared, about 50-50. I think your good old days, like most good old days, are imaginary.

    But to each his own.


  4. Anonymous says:

    Tom, I was really hoping for a response on the horns question. I haven’t heard the French horns flub in other cities, and very rarely on recordings. But they “misfire” almost every time I go to the MSO. I’m surprised it’s tolerated here.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Hi Jeff,
    Horns, which of all the instruments in the orchestra are most subject to cracked notes, never flub on recordings because of retakes and editing.

    The current MSO horn crew is by far the most reliable I’ve heard in my 27 seasons with the orchestra. I can’t speak of Saturday’s performance, as I attended Friday. I can recall just one horn flub Friday. Maybe I missed one or two because I never listen for mistakes and focus on the overall drama in the music, but there was certainly nothing egregious.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the laughs on the commentaries, both from the author and a-broad… I have my own thoughts, from the Sunday performance – my first time with Mahler’s 3rd…but I’ll refrain for now. Reading this was too funny.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I heard Mahler 3 on Sunday and I thought the horns were absolutely awesome. Great sound, blend, etc. I don’t know what other cities you’ve heard horns perform in, but this orchestra has a GREAT section. Musicians are human, and human beings are imperfect. All musicians make mistakes. Brass players miss notes occasionally, not because they are bad players or unprepared, but simply because of the instrument they play, which cannot be controlled 100%, just as the body itself cannot be controlled 100%. Slight fluctuations in automatic bodily responses can change the response of the lips and cause missed notes. Even the greatest, most consistent players like Joseph Alessi or Adolph Herseth makes mistakes sometimes.

    Why don’t you try playing horn yourself? You’ll see what it’s like!!

  8. Anonymous says:

    Thanks to Tom and Sam for your responses. My father was a horn player, so I know how difficult it can be. But he and I and others have been taken aback sometimes by the multiple missed notes we hear–especially notable when it’s at the start of a section. Sam, you’re right, the brass players occasionally miss as well, but it’s far less frequent.

    You might enjoy this blog entry on French horns, “Do horn players have “the divine right to flub?” at In part:

    “In some ways, playing the horn is like bull fighting. Like the Toreado facing a bull, you are dealing with something which is extremely risky and unpredicatble. A joke goes ‘Why is the horn a divine instrument ? That’s because man blows into it, and only God knows what will come out!’ “

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