Seattle Symphony musicians applauded guest conductor Thomas Dausgaard after he led them on a dramatic but nuanced journey through Mahler’s Tenth.
The current Seattle Symphony program is slightly shorter than the average concert in Benaroya Hall — but you’re unlikely to feel shortchanged. Not after hearing the cataclysmic, overwhelming and powerfully mystifying Mahler Tenth Symphony with Thomas Dausgaard on the podium.
Thursday’s concert, dedicated to the victims of last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris and Beirut, rolled out the five movements of Mahler’s final and unfinished opus (completed some half-century after the composer’s 1911 death by British scholar Deryck Cooke, who later refined and revised the score further). Traversing those five movements is a remarkable journey for both the performers and the audience.
Is the Tenth the final gasp of the traditional symphonic form, or the dawn of something quite new? Do the shocking “death blows” from the bass drum herald Mahler’s own imminent death, or the unraveling of his marriage, or are they merely a particularly dramatic way of shifting gears to move into the symphony’s finale?
The Seattle Symphony Orchestra: Mahler Ten
With Thomas Dausgaard conducting, repeats 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; $21-$123, (206-215-4747, seattlesymphony.org.)
Like so much about the Tenth Symphony, the answers are unknowable. But what we do know is that this vast and sprawling symphony is a treasure trove of gorgeous, troubling, challenging music — and that it requires both musical intelligence and consummate skill to perform it.
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Steering a course through dulcet viola themes to bucolic waltzes, piercing brass interludes, nightmarish chords and the sudden refinement of melody into a tiny thread of sound in the principal cello: All these require a steady hand and a sure grasp of the score. Dausgaard possesses both, along with the skill to communicate his vision to the players and to the audience.
Leaning beseechingly into the violin section, his hands extended as if to pull the sound he wants out of the instruments, Dausgaard is a compelling communicator. He seldom glanced at the score; his level of mastery of the Tenth is impressive indeed. The musicians rallied mightily for him, playing with a level of inspiration that made the most of Mahler’s beautiful but difficult solos and ensemble episodes. Certainly there were imperfect moments when execution fell short of intention but, on the whole, the principals deserved their hearty applause.
When the last chord was followed by a full 10 seconds of silence indicated by Dausgaard, the applause began.
From the orchestra.
For the conductor.
And yes, the musicians’ applause was for each other, too — in clear recognition of how challenging this music is, and how the Seattle Symphony had risen to that challenge together. The audience ovation left no doubt that this recognition was shared.
It was impossible to be in the house and not realize that something rare and significant had taken place. Don’t miss your chance to join in; the opportunity to hear the Tenth live, and at this level of quality, is not a chance to be missed.