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Mahler's problem child

Maestro Ling discusses Mahler's Seventh Symphony.

Jahja Ling
  • Jahja Ling
  • Image by Briana Houston

Jacobs Music Center/Copley Symphony Hall

750 B Street, Downtown San Diego

Let’s talk a little more about Mahler. His Seventh Symphony is this weekend at San Diego Symphony and I was able to speak to non other than Maestro Ling about Mahler’s “problem child”.

We spoke about more than Mahler. We spoke about Bruckner, Cleveland, China, the number of new symphony players in the last ten years, music outreach, Bernstein, Royal Albert Hall, Telarc, Yo Yo Ma, Carnegie Hall, and so much more but for now I’m going to limit it to Mahler and the upcoming concert.

Jahja Ling: I agree, Mahler’s Seventh is a problem child. Few audiences can understand it and only a few conductors dare to play it. This is the first time it will be played at San Diego Symphony.

San Diego Reader : Who is playing the cowbell?

JL: That’s the thing, when you mention the cowbell. Mahler started composing, not with the first movement, he started with the second movement, with the Nachtmusik. Some people think night music, terrible, dark, nightmare, the tragedy of his daughter dying. Night doesn’t only mean darkness or nightmare. It could be a beautiful dream. It could be a relaxing evening. After all the tragedy of the Sixth Mahler is coming back from that and relaxing and finding comfort. Then when you bring up the cowbell that’s when Mahler is presenting the pastoral mood. It’s like Psalm 23, ‘Yea though I pass through the valley of the shadow of death...’ and we arrive at a green pasture — and you hear the cowbells. That’s why I feel you base the interpretation on the second movement. Mahler also uses mandolin and guitar which gives it a feeling of a serenade. It’s almost schmaltzy. It’s like you're singing to someone you love.

SDR: Romeo and Juliet.

JL: Ya! and then of course the scherzo is another Nachtmusik in disguise. The outer movements are the most modern of any Mahler because of the harmony and the juxtaposition of the melody — it’s just crazy.

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