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
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
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.