Anton Bruckner's mature works — his fourth through ninth symphonies — lack popular appeal but not for lack of merit.
  • Anton Bruckner's mature works — his fourth through ninth symphonies — lack popular appeal but not for lack of merit.
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The crowning achievement of maestro Jahja Ling’s tenure as music director of the San Diego Symphony came on Saturday night with Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8. That is not to say there haven’t been spectacular concerts in the past decade. Ling’s affinity for the symphonies of Johannes Brahms has established a tradition of excellence between the orchestra and that German master.

However, a Brahms symphony is not a Bruckner symphony. Bruckner’s mature works, basically his fourth through ninth symphonies, hold a special place in the repertoire. They lack popular appeal but not for lack of merit.


Great SoKool Experience No. 9

...Haydn's kinda the shit

...Haydn's kinda the shit

There were several audience members who left the concert early on Saturday. They lacked the bandwidth to handle the file size that Bruckner presents. You can’t download Bruckner’s eighth if your personal bandwidth is the equivalent of dial-up service. You need at least a cable connection circa 2007 in order to stream Bruckner into your consciousness, otherwise you lose the connection.

Basic people just can’t handle the Bruckner intensity. It’s not a matter of how long Bruckner symphonies are. Mahler’s sixth, from last season, was quite long but it appeared to be better attended than Brucker’s eight.

I’m not here to argue Bruckner or Mahler. I am here to say that Bruckner places more strenuous demands on the brain than Mahler. In the last few years I’ve heard Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 twice along with the aforementioned sixth and also Mahler’s Symphony No. 5.

At the conclusion of those concerts I didn’t feel the same type of mental exhaustion that clouded my mind when Bruckner was done with me. You need only watch the video review I made immediately after the concert to see that I was fried.


Bruckner Symphony No 8

Celibidache Münchner Philharmoniker, Live Tokyo 20 October 1990

Celibidache Münchner Philharmoniker, Live Tokyo 20 October 1990

While my brain struggled to assimilate the voluminous waves of Bruckner’s vision, my emotions were fully engaged. This performance brought many a tear to my eye and bumps unto my skin. The sheer beauty of the sounds that the orchestra made were more than I could have hoped for in this performance.

The big moments were big, but the small, quiet moments contained a sublime beauty that brought to mind this passage from 1 Kings.

“And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.”

It was not in Bruckner’s mountains or earthquakes or fire but in the still small moments when the voice of the divine was to be heard. Divine? Call it what you want, but the holiness of the sounds that came from the orchestra cannot be denied.

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Don Bauder March 28, 2017 @ 12:35 p.m.

Harold C. Schonberg put it exquisitely in his "The Lives of the Great Composers." Mahler was a Jew who converted to Christianity, but really didn't practice either. Mahler was constantly asking questions: "Why am I made to feel I am free while yet I am constrained within my character as in a prison? What is the object of toil and sorrow? How am I to understand the cruelty and malice in the creation of a kind God? Will the meaning of life be finally revealed by death?"

Mahler wrestled with such questions his entire life, and this is reflected in his glorious music. He was one of the most complex persons of the late Romantic era.

Continues Schonberg, "Bruckner too wrote symphonies that reflected an attempt to answer these questions. In Bruckner's case, however, no doubts are expressed. He was a devout man with a simplistic view toward the world and the hereafter. God is good. Everything man does should reflect the glory of God."

Mahler was a far greater composer -- in many musicologists' top ten or top five. Bruckner, too, was a great composer, but not in a league with Mahler. Certainly, Bruckner belongs in the top 20. Best, Don Bauder


Don Bauder March 28, 2017 @ 12:45 p.m.

I must add this: two of the greatest times we have every spent at a symphony concert was Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting the Bruckner 7th at Chicago Symphony and Esa-Pekka Salonen conduction the Mahler 1st at La Scala. Best, Don Bauder


clavessin March 28, 2017 @ 1:28 p.m.

Let's see: Brahms's Symphony #1 was premiered in 1876 and his symphony #4 was premiered in 1885. Bruckner started writing symphonies in 1863 and his last symphony dates from 1896. Mahler's first symphony dates from 1887 and his last from 1909. Why is it that we always compare Bruckner to Mahler and much less so to Brahms ? I didn't know there was such a thing as the Composer League and I would love to know what objective and measurable criteria make Mahler a 'far greater' composer (although I would submit that there isn't probably such a huge difference between the top 10 and top 20) than Bruckner, but I know that I will get out of my way far more easily to attend a Bruckner symphony than one by Mahler. The Bruckner #8 concert on Saturday was definitely one of the highlights of 2016-2017. Congratulations to the San Diego Symphony.


Don Bauder March 28, 2017 @ 2:11 p.m.

clavessin: Mahler's choral work in the 2nd and 3rd symphonies, and his songs (particularly Das Lied von der Erde, Des Knaben Wunderhorn, Songs of a Wayfarer, and Kindertotenlieder) set him apart from Bruckner, and perhaps from all composers. I find Bruckner's choral music OK, but hardly breathtaking. Bruckner's fourth, seventh, and ninth symphonies are wonderful. The others are good, but not great -- in my opinion. I did not hear the 8th that supposedly was so great. Best, Don Bauder


Flapper March 28, 2017 @ 2:35 p.m.

Thanks for the warning. As a "basic person," at least in the estimation of the inestimable author, I shall not waste my Wollmart money or "bandwidth" on pretending to understand what a "strain on my brain" could not possibly comprehend. And I won't dare to cross crutches with a master of metaphor. I lack the "bandwidth."


Don Bauder March 28, 2017 @ 8:31 p.m.

Flapper: Start with the Mahler 2nd, as I did about 45 years ago. Then get a recording of the Mahler 5th and listen to the Adagietto movement. You will be hooked for life. Leonard Bernstein, who is responsible for bringing Mahler's music to a wide audience, wanted the score from the 5th symphony buried on top of him in his casket. Best, Don Bauder


Flapper March 28, 2017 @ 8:40 p.m.

Showman to the end. But truly talented.


Don Bauder March 29, 2017 @ 1:14 p.m.

Flapper: Of course Bernstein was a showman. All great conductors are, at least to some extent. Bernstein was also a composer of some note, but hardly a great one. Best, Don Bauder


Ponzi March 28, 2017 @ 10:16 p.m.

I love our Symphony. And want to mention thanks to Judson Grosvenor (the first angel) and Helen Copley (their 2nd angel) for their generous contributions that helped the symphony remain an ongoing concern.


Don Bauder March 29, 2017 @ 1:18 p.m.

Ponzi: And what about Irwin Jacobs and his wife? They saved the symphony with a gift of more than $100 million. Best, Don Bauder


Flapper March 29, 2017 @ 3:54 p.m.

We rushed down, at great expense to us, to hear their "last" performance--to support "our" symphony, at least in token respect. OUTSTANDING! What wonderful musicians we have had, and have, right here in River City! Carnegie, eat yer heart out!

Earlier, we had attended a concert that turned out to be atonal. I sat and actually booed, whilst the rest of the crowd gave them a standing ovation. I've never done such a thing before, however poor the performance. In this case, I took it that the performance was fine; it was the composition that stank.

The swells and stuffed shirts complain that the heathen fail to support the symphony and the other arts. It's not that we don't like the music, the dance, the painting and sculpture, it's that we're not "into" snobbery. And, we can't afford it.


Garrett Harris March 30, 2017 @ 9:32 a.m.

Flapper it feels as though you have more intellectual ability than resorting to a tired argument of snobbery. This is San Diego, the land with a culture based on flip flops and microbrews. AKA the least snobby city you're going to find. Is this about snobbery or boorishness?

If you can't afford a $20 seat at the symphony then what can you afford? I see people routinely paying more than $20 to put poison into their bodies.


Don Bauder March 30, 2017 @ 9:07 p.m.

Garrett Harris: Yes, but the opera was saved -- at least thus far it has been saved. There are some very good plays staged, and many more venues than there used to be. Chamber music is thriving in San Diego. Best, Don Bauder


Don Bauder March 30, 2017 @ 9:04 p.m.

Flapper: I feel as you do about atonal music (with some exceptions). Critics, however, scold a general manager if he or she doesn't load up the season roster with modern or contemporary music. It works in some markets, such as New York, but not in many. Chicago is putting on a lot of atonal music. I don't know if it is suffering at the box office.

One reason the San Diego Opera ran into trouble was that, beginning in the 1990s, it was staging a bunch of modern and contemporary operas. (It was getting a bundle of money from a charitable institution that was trying to promote modern music.) Attendance plunged. Best, Don Bauder


Don Bauder March 30, 2017 @ 9:15 a.m.

Flapper: The San Diego Symphony is very good. There are a lot of excellent orchestras in the world, partly because Juilliard, Curtis and other schools keep turning out excellent classical musicians. I am told Israel has excellent orchestras even in small towns. When the Russians cast out the Jews, Israel inherited some great musicians. U.S. orchestras also picked up some great musicians when the Nazis were so brutal to Jews.

We also picked up some great scientists as a result of the Holocaust.

Incidentally, the last time I heard a Russian orchestra I was disappointed. Can't remember the name of the orchestra, but it put on the Verdi Requiem at the Civic and it was the worst one I have ever heard. Best, Don Bauder


Flapper March 30, 2017 @ 9:38 a.m.

I don't believe Russia would send even its second-string fiddlers to the US.

The Czechs are particularly good. Their bar-room pianists would be Carnegie Hall material here.

Europe in general has a better-educated population than the USA, and their standards are higher. Audiences know $hit from $hinola there.


Don Bauder March 30, 2017 @ 9:10 p.m.

Flapper: Oh yes. Eastern Europoe produces great music and great musicians, including composers. (The number of top Hungarian composers has been amazing for a country of that size.) Best, Don Bauder


Flapper March 30, 2017 @ 10:19 p.m.

I have not been to Hungary, but one of my best friends (a Resistance fighter at 14) was from there. I planned to name a son Zoltan!

Even little Romania has given us at least one dynamite singer, the toast of Europoe.

Comparing Europoeans with Americans snob index would be interesting. Never got that feeling there (Paris Opera, Verona's Coliseum, etc.). Prices are better too. Not to mention the theaters.


Don Bauder March 31, 2017 @ 8:45 a.m.

Flapper: The Vienna Philharmonic has been arguably the world's best orchestra for some time. The orchestra also plays for the Staatsoper, one of the great opera companies.

You can buy a DVD of the Berlin Philharmonic performing Bach's St. Matthew Passion in semi-operatic form. It is magnificent. Best, Don Bauder


Flapper March 31, 2017 @ 12:11 p.m.

Johann Sebastian Bach: Matthäus-Passion (St Matthew Passion) / Sir Simon Rattle, conductor · Berliner Philharmoniker · Topi Lehtipuu, tenor · Jonathan Kelly, oboe · Rundfunkchor Berlin (Simon Halsey, chorus master) · Peter Sellars, ritualization / Recorded at the Berlin Philharmonie, 19 September 2013 ?


Don Bauder March 31, 2017 @ 10:22 p.m.

Flapper: That's it. Costs $55 online. Worth every penny.

Up until I saw/heard this DVD, I had felt that Peter Sellars had messed up every opera or oratorio he had staged. Now he has done one great one. We also got Berlin/Rattle's St. John Passion and Sellars made a mess of it. Best, Don Bauder


Flapper April 1, 2017 @ 4:34 p.m.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was "Don't buy stuff. Buy experiences!"


Don Bauder April 2, 2017 @ 4:24 p.m.

Flapper: You seem to be saying that it's more satisfying to go to a concert than buy a recording. This takes us back to the initial subject: Bruckner/Mahler. There is no doubt that hearing those two composers in person is much better than listening to a CD or DVD. But I can't afford to fly all over the world to hear live concerts. We have a huge collection of CDs. and a fairly large collection of DVDs. Best, Don Bauder


Flapper April 2, 2017 @ 9:39 p.m.

We can no longer afford to fly anywhere, so if the Vienna won't come to us, we will have to settle for the hint of greatness we can get on YouTube.


Don Bauder April 4, 2017 @ 10:34 p.m.

Flapper: I doubt the Vienna Phil will come to San Diego, but I may be wrong. Berlin put on its great St. Matthew Passion in New York, and got a complete rave review from the NY Times reviewer. Best, Don Bauder


Flapper March 31, 2017 @ 12:02 p.m.

Don Bauder: Thank you for the tips. Your kind of critical thinking and willingness to share your knowledge always is welcome. Smarmy snobbery never is, and it doesn't help get people to concerts and classical operas. While we heathen recognize the quality of pre-20th century music, what about the 20th and 21st?


Don Bauder March 31, 2017 @ 10:25 p.m.

Flapper: The 18th and 19th centuries produced great music. By and large, the good music produced in the 20th century was written in the first 20 years. 21st century? It will stink if the 20th century mentality continues. Best, Don Bauder


Flapper March 31, 2017 @ 11:19 p.m.

What mentality--then and now? This needs an explanation.


Don Bauder April 2, 2017 @ 7:04 p.m.

Flapper: The Renaissance period includes works from the 1500s and 1600s -- the Gabrielis, Monteverdi, etc. The music is good. Then comes greatness: the baroque. Bach, the greatest composer of all time, was born in 1685. So was Handel, who was in the top 5 of all time. Other great baroque composers: Vivaldi, Domenico Scarlatti, Corelli, Telemann, Purcell, etc.

Then comes the Classical period -- Mozart, Haydn, and early Beethoven. Next come the early Romantics -- Beethoven, who breaks the mold, Schubert, Chopin, etc. Then come the middle Romantics -- Wagner, Liszt, Grieg, Schumann. Wagner and Liszt were contemptuous of Brahms, who went back to more rigid forms. Late Romantics: Bruckner, Mahler, Richard Strauss. (Mahler's 8th symphony may be the peak of the Romantic period.)

Then come the modern composers -- Stravinsky, Bartok, et al. Next came the contemporary ones. I refuse to name any of them. Best, Don Bauder


Flapper April 2, 2017 @ 9:41 p.m.

But what has caused the Great Decline?


Don Bauder April 4, 2017 @ 7:37 a.m.

Flapper: Pressure from critics was one factor. Modern/contemporary music is "visual" music -- that is, it takes an expert to appreciate what the composer has concocted. Critics look down at melody and are only pleased by complexity. Snob appeal. There are other factors. Best, Don Bauder


Flapper April 4, 2017 @ 12:36 p.m.

As has been here decreed, snob appeal does not exist. And the Critic shall lead us into the Valley of Rejection . . .

We heathen drink cheap wine, so why not music with melody?


Don Bauder April 4, 2017 @ 10:36 p.m.

Flapper: I am not talking about saccharine melody. I am talking about melody, harmony, great orchestration. Best, Don Bauder


Flapper April 5, 2017 @ 1:01 a.m.

Neither am I, but on that subject, consider a (parallel?) decline in the quality of "popular" music. Jazz, Blues, Rhythm and Blues, Rock and Roll, Country, etc.


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