Gustav Mahler was Jewish though not religious. Yet he was superstitious. When he began composing his ninth symphony, in 1908, he refused to name it by its number. Many of his artistic heroes—Beethoven, Schubert, Bruckner—died before they could finish their ninth symphonies, so Mahler thought he would out-do fate and simply call it by another name. He dubbed it “Das Lied von der Erde,” and its one of his best.
My colleague George Robinson wrote an insightful piece on the upcoming "Babi Yar" symphony being performed by the New York Philharmonic this weekend. I've never heard the symphony in full, but I look forward to hearing it this Thursday night.
N.Y. Philharmonic to perform ‘Babi Yar,’ the composer’s public rebuke of the Kremlin.
Special to the Jewish Week
There’s a special look that artists develop when they live under a brutal dictatorship. It’s a shiftiness in the eyes that comes from always looking behind to see who is listening and taking notes when they speak, write, paint, compose. Dmitri Shostakovich must have had that look down pat.
“He was on a list,” Victoria Bond says. “They must have watched his every move.”
The star pianist Yefim Bronfman performs in New York often, but I have never seen him. That was rectified last night: I caught him in the first of three concerts with the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall. He was remarkable. Performing Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2, he captured the full range of emotions in the piece--its subtle bits of humor, the breezy wistfulness, the heroic ambition--without drawing much attention to himself.
Tonight the New York Philharmonic begins the first of three "Elijah" performances. They should all be magnificent, on purely aesthetic grounds. But there's a deep theological divide embedded in this work too, and one that has profound implications for our understanding of how Jewish a composer -- if one at all -- Felix Mendelssohn was.
Was the German composer’s oratorio a nod toward his Jewish ancestry — or the full fruition of his Christian identity?
When the New York Philharmonic performs Felix Mendelssohn’s rarely heard “Elijah” (1846) oratorio this weekend, many will no doubt see it as proof that the composer always identified with his family’s Jewish faith.