Thursday night’s BSO concert came to a sudden halt in the middle of the massive slow movement that crowns Mahler’s Third Symphony, as a chorister fainted on stage, falling off a low riser into a small space behind the trombones. Conductor Daniele Gatti put down his baton and walked off stage as the orchestra fell silent, and Gatti returned a few minutes later to resume the performance. According to a BSO spokesman, the chorister hit her head but was OK and was being treated on site by paramedics.
The BSO’s Mahler program follows on the heels of last week’s all-Wagner program, and shared a certain affinity with it. Or as Pierre Boulez once put it: “Just as Wagner destroyed the artificial order of the opera in order to initiate a far more creative attitude to the drama, so Mahler revolutionized the symphony, ravaging its all too neatly ordered landscape and introducing his hallucinatory visions into the holy place where logic used to be worshipped.”
No Mahler symphony expresses those visions as viscerally or as sprawlingly as the composer’s Third: a panoramic view of the natural world in all its teeming Dionysian glory and the human place within it, capped by one of the composer’s paeans to love itself, all encompassing, religious.
Thursday’s night performance boasted many moments of brilliant ensemble work. Also striking were the beautifully noble off-stage posthorn solos of Thomas Rolfs, the sound drifting in as if from a distant world; the subtle trombone work of Toby Oft; and the smooth solo playing of violinist Elita Kang sitting as concertmaster. Mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter brought cool colorings and scrupulous musicianship to her solo work, joined effectively in the fifth movement by the PALS Children’s Chorus and the women of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus (which Gatti unfortunately chose to leave standing during the long instrumental finale). At the end of the night the massed forces on stage received a robust ovation.
All of this said, I wish I could find more sympathy for Gatti’s interpretations. The tightness with which he sculpted orchestral phrases in the first movement left the music at times sounding airless or came at the expense of a longer expressive arc.
The second and third movements were more successful, but the finale, even before its interruption, was taken at a tempo so slow that any sense of tension or emotive accumulation in the musical line was bafflingly lost.
So was the music’s core sense of meaning. Other interpreters draw from this spiraling adagio a statement of enormous expressive power and spiritual generosity. What exactly Gatti hears in this concluding music I could not say.