Photo by Wikipedia Commons
Oskar Kokoschka's The Bride of the Wind inspired by his unrequited love for Alma Mahler
There were lines, long lines. Lines which stretched the length of the lobby and then extended around the corner. They were beautiful because everyone was in line for the opening concert of the 2019-2020 Jacobs Masterworks Series at Copley Symphony Hall on Saturday, October 5.
I’d only seen such lines at the symphony during Comic Con and when Lang Lang was the opening night soloist for opening night. Well, Comic Con is over and Lang Lang was nowhere to be seen. In fact, there was no soloist at all on the program.
The orchestra struggled at the start of the concert — playing in fits and starts like a cranky old Model T trying to turn over. Of course, that’s exactly how they were supposed to be playing Alternative Energy by Mason Bates.
Did I mention that everyone was at the concert for Rafael Payare, the new music director of the San Diego Symphony? I didn’t. He and Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 were the reason for the long lines.
However, it all started with Mason Bates. We heard his Garages of the Valley last season and it was something of a meditation. Alternative Energy is a four-movement essay of cinematic music with specific programs attached.
The narrative structure of each movement roughly followed the same format of slow, fitful starts followed by some momentum which is interrupted only to come back more forcefully before concluding. This is known as the hero’s journey. The hero doesn’t want to go, then goes, then faces a setback only to come back with even more hero-force and then the story ends.
Not so Mahler’s Symphony No. 5. We could boil Mahler’s narrative down to: we’re all going to die, the storms of life are going to crush us, we want to dance but we don’t fit in or know the proper steps, and then something, or in the case of Mahler, someone redeems us and life is worth celebrating.
The someone for Mahler was his wife Alma. They married in 1902, and Mahler composed the fifth in 1901 and 1902.
Alma Schindler-Mahler could be considered the muse of fin de siecle Vienna. The composer and conductor Zemlinsky had fallen in love with her. Gustav Klimt had, too. Oskar Kokoschka was infatuated with her for his entire life and his greatest painting, The Bride of the Wind was based on his unrequited love for Alma.
Alma’s second husband was Walter Gropius, the head of the Bauhaus and her third husband was the renowned author Franz Werfel. After moving to Los Angeles during World War II, Alma’s salon included Arnold Schoenberg, Igor Stravinsky, Thomas Mann.
Mahler presented her with the adagietto accompanied by a love poem and this short movement, in my opinion, the heart of his compositional output.
How did the San Diego Symphony respond to their new leader? Quite well. It was an energetic start to what promises to be a golden era in the orchestra’s concertizing. That being said, the orchestra was not quite able to give Payare what he was asking for during this performance. We shall see if Payare’s rising tide does indeed lift all ships.