Maybe I was even resigned to it, probably for the first time. Not happy about it, not even angry really, but willing to accept that this was how it was going to end and that it had all been essentially for nothing- an iterated prisoner's dilemma with three other casualties left behind in a nasty, zero-sum, side game. Everyone's a loser.
We began walking toward Davies, down Polk Street, saying little along the way. She was walking much faster than I wanted to, seemingly in a hurry. When we arrived she asked whom I was meeting.
"No one. I knew you'd be busy. Want to join me? I have an extra ticket."
She declined, though I could see her weighing it all before doing so. I watched her walk through the door onto Grove Street and then went to my seat.
The small irony of the concert beginning with Mahler's Blumine wasn't lost on me, and checking the program I was surprised to learn it hasn't been performed by the orchestra since 1970. Somewhere I've heard this performed before, and now I couldn't recall where or when. The ten-minute piece, originally the second movement of his first symphony, is, to use Mahler's own description, "a sentimentally indulgent movement, a love episode." He pulled it from the work after its disastrous premiere. In the middle of it is a solo by the trumpet, effectively performed by Mark Inouye, as was Nadya Tichman's violin solo. The orchestra sounded lush and it was a gorgeous performance, but it's almost a given at this point that with MTT on the podium, any work by Mahler performed by this band is going to sound wonderful.
It was the rare presence of Schnittke's fourth violin concerto on the program that really drew me to this performance. Composed in 1984 and only performed in the house once before (2003), the soloist for these performances is SFS's own concertmaster Alexander Barantschik. Before they began, MTT commented that all the pieces on the program spoke to a sense of nostalgia. That tone is immediately set by the concerto's beginning- tolling bells, creating a sense of something past, an idyll which is interrupted by the harsh reality of the present when the violin enters with shocking discord. A kind of struggle between the two continues into the second movement, where the violinist engages the extensive percussion section in what looked like an agonizing and thankless duel, which the violin loses, finally sawing away silently against a battery of sound.
The third movement Adagio is very cinematic. The presence of an extra violinist performing above the terrace, a prominent harpsichord, and lovely moments from the cellos, all merged into a wonderful whole as it became a dance in the end. The fourth movement brings back the bells, different this time, suggesting a darker, different reality- a wake-up call to the futility of it all as it ends with a visual cadenza, in which Barantschik, after another furious round of soloing, goes down in a conflagration, his instrument is silenced despite his attempts to keep playing, to keep pushing back against what will be an inevitable surrender to larger forces.
Perhaps it was foolish of me to think of the presence of Beethoven's Sixth on the program as something to perhaps enjoy, but not necessarily get excited about. But my experiences with Beethoven in MTT's hands have run the gamut from extreme disappointment to pleased astonishment and after all these years I never quite know what to expect from him. This performance was really all one could want from this particular piece. The first movement had almost every string player swaying along to its buoyant melody, performed with a lightness that hearkened back to what MTT had previously said regarding nostalgia. It was incredibly expressive, reminding me of why I love Beethoven the way I do.
The second movement's scene by the brook had a languid capaciousness about it and at times it seemed it was going to come undone, but MTT was just pushing it toward the boundaries without ever letting loose of it, and Tim Day had an excellent solo. The last movement's Shepherd's Song was performed with an almost Furtwangler-like sense of pacing and deliberation, with the strings again swaying toward the end. In all, it was pretty damn good Beethoven, exquisite at times, and really, what more could you want than that? Well, maybe for the guy sitting in Row O, seat 9 to shut the fuck up for once, but I still managed to leave the hall feeling rejuvenated, calm, and looking forward to hearing the 9th which will be performed at the end of the season.
The following night I was at home, watching a movie when the phone rang. It was the Femme Fatale, who had read what I'd written about 1978 and wanted to tell me she didn't want to be just another part of "your story." What I didn't tell her then, but she'll know now when she reads this, is that I'd like to bring this story to an end. It's gone on for way too long and soon, very soon, it will indeed be finished.