Gustav Mahler’s 5th symphony is big, glorious; affecting; and serious. Thus, it needs a class ‘A’ orchestra and conductor to properly perform it. The Hamilton Philharmonic and maestra Gemma New certainly accomplished the work’s requirements.
This season’s final concert opened with Claude Vivier’s ORION. First time hearing this piece and quite probably, my last. The seven motifs supposedly represent the stars that make up the constellation – the hunter and his two doggies. Like the myth; Vivier; a flamboyant gay, was murdered in Paris by a young male prostitute just as Orion was condemned for insulting the gods.
The work, like those of Hindemith, Boulez or D’Indy is atonal with constant tempi variations. My seat-mate ‘Eris’, agreed that this is a piece more for the musicians than the listeners. We both heard the vocal ‘Hey Ho’ as Belefonte’s DAY-O; y only added ♫ Daylight comes & I wanna go home! ♪ – sotto voce!
One very noticeable feature was the novel layout of the HPO. A number of years ago, there was a debate between Leonard Slatkin (Detroit Symphony); Bernard Haitink (London Symphony); James Levine (Metropolitan Opera) and my friend the late TSO concertmaster Jacques Israelievitch about where to locate, split or modify the stereophonic sounds that emanate over the footlights. Ms. New placed the upright basses at the rear of stage right; brasses at center; gong & harp in front of the basses; the celli within the 1st violins and the second violin section to the right of her podium. Perhaps this alternative was to benefit the McMaster LIVElab “Wellbeing Initiative” which is a study that hopes to improve the range & tone of hearing aids, for those requiring the units. Hopefully, this effort will result in amelioration for those still hoping to fully enjoy listening to music.
The major work of the evening Mahler’s magnificent 5th symphony is something to be experienced. Running approximately seventy-five minutes each of the five movements projects diverse moods. Sepulchral to begin, terpsichoreal; hectic; expressive and joyous this piece conveys impressions enhanced with abrupt pace changes and constant variations, There are numerous solo opportunities especially for trumpets, winds and percussion. One movement features a multitude of ‘grand finale’ crescendos. Amazingly, the usually philistine audience did not break the moods by inappropriate applause between movements.
Each year for the last decade and a half, our O.A.R. has published our ‘Top Ten’ listing of events – theatre or concert, that were the stand-outs. The HPO usually has one or two that make this accolade. In re-capping the symphony’s season, it seems that every one of the series offerings were candidates. So, perhaps 2019 will have an entire season as one of our Top Ten. The inter-dependency between podium and musicians is certainly co-operative, non-adversarial; and the comfortable relationship Ms. New has with her audience is reflected in her ability to address and communicate. Her vocalized concepts/ideas are- unlike with her predecessor (or a certain Justin ‘T’) completely “Uhm”-less.