This morning, here on the East Coast of the US, we had the opportunity to hear the Berliner Philharmoniker and Sir Simon Rattle perform Gustav Mahler’s Ninth Symphony at the National Chiang Kai-Shek Cultural Center in Taipei. The concert was simulcast live through the Digital Concert Hall.
One of the pleasures of the Digital Concert Hall is that it creates new ways of sharing performances of classical music, but it also creates new contexts in which to understand the music itself.
On the East Coast it was dark as we signed in to hear this concert. The first glimpses of sunrise began to happen just before the event itself, and as Mahler worked through this symphony often associated with goodbyes, blue color filled the skies and world awakened. On the east coast, this Mahler 9 opened in darkness and ended in daylight, instead of the other way around.
Though this performance had the same basic contours as the event broadcast from Berlin on November 5, there were enough subtle differences that I hope the Berliner Philharmoniker considers adding this performance to the archive.
The opening movement of this performance was particularly rich. The orchestra sounded at home in the hall very quickly, and procession of dark and light musics that comprise this movement seemed to dance. Haunted passages, like the ghostly tune in G minor played muted celli during the development, or the mysterioso episode at the end of the recapitulation seemed particularly inspired.
It must have been challenging to fit this hall with cameras and to develop a plan for the high quality live images that mark performances in the digital concert hall, but the results were satisfying. A split-screen shot, not normally used in Berlin, appeared several times to frame simultaneous musics, like the horn solo and the line played by second violins just before the second theme group, or the horn and flute duet at the end of the recapitulation.
The orchestra brought joy to the second movement, and shared the humor of its gestures among themselves as they shared them with us. The complexity of the Rondo-Burleske, and the mocking atmosphere as the turn figure that shapes the final movement is first introduced, was engaging.
Rattle froze at the final gesture of the adagio and allowed silence to become part of the music at its close.
"From our hearts we thank you," said Rattle to an audience at the Taipei Arena about 20 minutes later. The event was transmitted to groups of listeners in several locations throughout Taiwan, and the pre and post celebration had the feel of Chinese New Year, with both male and female hosts and promoted audience chants that ranged from "Bravo Rattle," to "Rattle! Rattle! We love You."
It was six years ago the Berliner Philharmoniker first visited Taipei. In this return visit they brought us all with them. The event and the music both felt shared.