Author Archives: Theodora Martin

Fulfilling Mahler’s Ninth at the San Francisco Symphony

Gustav Mahler

Michael Tilson Thomas’ final concert this past Saturday for the SF Symphony’s 2018-19 season featured Mahler’s last full symphony, the Ninth. It was a noteworthy moment and an extraordinary experience from start to finish. MTT’s final season with the SFS after a 25-year tenure as innovative director will start this coming September and conclude next June, but it seems as though loyal symphony-goers and fans had already started saying their long goodbyes in 2017, as soon as the conductor’s decision was announced publicly. In addition, MTT took a medical leave promptly after this last Sunday matinee performance in order to undertake a cardiac procedure. 

Mahler Ninth’s association with irregular heartbeats — especially Bernstein’s hypothesis that the hesitant rhythmic motif that starts and ends the symphony is a direct transcription of Mahler’s own heart condition — has been longstanding. While Mahler’s inward compositional intentions will, as ever, remain clouded by history — and, therefore, produce all sorts of equally plausible hypotheses — it is not fit to conflate myth with news and to romanticize MTT’s genuine health concern as so many one-liners and headers to sensational news have done for the past few weeks. 

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Archived in these categories: Orchestral

Mahler Marathon at Davies Hall

Given Michael Tilson Thomas’s affinity for Mahler, Saturday’s program — the Adagio from Mahler’s Tenth Symphony and his First Symphony — was unsurprising. The programming, however, was not necessarily perplexing but unusual. Beginning a concert with — to use MTT’s own word from his brief talk just pre-performance — the “otherworldly” first movement of the Tenth is risky. Not because Mahler’s yearning, heart-piercing melodies won’t produce by and large the same intense reactions from listeners no matter which piece they come from. But because out of the two programmed pieces, the first is certainly the weightier. MTT must have known this — and his programming must have simply followed the one golden rule of programming (“one must end with the loudest and most victorious”) — but even his brief talk revealed a slight apprehension: he shared with the audience his experience entering a famous temple in Kyoto in order to emphasize just how important (and difficult!) it is to shift from the business mentality of everyday life to the all-consuming activity of listening to something as dense and subtle as this movement. The point was, one must enter a different mind space and get away from the hustle and bustle in order to grasp the meaning. Read full story

Archived in these categories: Orchestral, Romantic Era

San Francisco Opera’s Aida: A Subtle Retelling


Most of the time audiences go to the opera hoping to see a spectacle — or to experience deep immersion in an extravagant story, extravagantly portrayed by beautiful singers-actors clad in beautiful clothes. The director of San Francisco Opera’s newest production of Aida, Francesca Zambello, however, admires the piece not for its epitomization of grandeur, but for the way it depicts the struggle between the individual and larger societal structures; for her, Aida is primarily a chamber opera, and its intimate moments deserve the most emphasis. In Friday evening’s performance at the War Memorial Opera House, Zambello’s views came to the forefront, even when Verdi’s treatment of larger structures felt eerily empty or unsettling.

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Archived in these categories: Opera, Romantic Era

Pianist Jon Nakamatsu Opens Steinway Society Series

jon_nakamatsu1 10-30-10

Pianist and Van Cliburn Gold Medalist Jon Nakamatsu joined the Steinway Society at the MacAfee Center in Saratoga for the opening gala of its 23rd season this Sunday. Since Nakamatsu is one of San Jose’s most beloved stars and appears frequently on the Society’s concert series, his return felt familiar to many of its loyal attendees. Although on paper his program seemed canonical enough not to raise a single eyebrow, in reality his chosen repertoire formed a busy agglomeration rather than a consonant assortment.

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Archived in these categories: Piano, Romantic Era

San Francisco Symphony — Mahler Resurrects Listeners’ Hearts at Davies Hall

gustav mahler

If any symphony is “a world of its own,” as Mahler supposedly remarked of his First (and later negated), it is the Second, nicknamed “Resurrection” (Auferstehung) for the Friedrich Klopstock text that the chorus sings in the formidable finale, that most closely fits this definition. We could tell MTT also viewed the piece as a self-sufficient world because the San Francisco Symphony’s last concert set this season presented the Mahler and nothing else. The piece is only one hour and a half long, shorter than the usual concert set, and only about half the length of the composer’s Third Symphony. But its subject matter — in a word, “the Apocalypse” — makes it one of the most intense of, Mahler’s symphonies. (And that is saying something.)

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Archived in these categories: Orchestral, Romantic Era