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Ionarts-at-Large: Maazel's Inauguration Concert in Munich v.1

Thursday night was the official concert-inauguration of Lorin Maazel (82) as the new music director of the Munich Philharmonic. The mood in the Gasteig’s drab functionalism can’t ever be truly festive, with Mahler Ninth on the program, it took a turn to the downright morose. A good amount of the musical who’s who was there, and every critic who had to, or those who felt otherwise compelled. The audience didn’t quite follow suit: a few hundred bodies were missing to bring the 2500 seat Philharmonic Hall to capacity. But then Maazel really isn’t something very new to Munich audiences—many already know him from his ten years with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (1993 – 2003)—and the enthusiasm in town for him is tempered. So tempered, indeed, that an outside PR agency has been hired to create a little more enthusiasm about his tenure. Maazel tov, as it were.

Although the MPhil is the city’s orchestra (as opposed to the state associated BRSO and the Bavarian State (Opera) Orchestra—state vs. city being an eternal feud between Munich and Bavaria), and this was purportedly a big event, the city’s culturally disinclined major was missing. Fortunately the new in-house hagiographer Elke Heidenreich, an author and TV personality of apparently local renown, was at hand to speak (without first introducing herself) a few laudatory, slightly banal words on the duties of a conductor in general and the abilities of Maazel in particular, peppered with third-hand anecdotes.

available at Amazon
G.Mahler, Symphony No.9,
Jimmy Levine / MPhil
(slowest on record)

Then it was up to Maazel and the orchestra to let Mahler speak. At first, that sounded loud and shrill, athletic, swift, and mechanical for the first movement. A generous listener might say: an unemotional view of Mahler… A realistic one might say: two rehearsals away from excellence. The rustic and harsh qualities suited, involuntarily or not, the clumsy Ländler of the second movement much better. It was a briefly injection of oxygen into the performance which then went on to bewilderingly incoherent moments in the Rondo-Burleske; more cacophonic than polyphonic. There was a continuing, surprising amount of oddities and outright mistakes in this “virtuoso piece on despair” (Adorno)—surprising especially since the clichéd expectations of Maazel would be perfection, however bland. About half way in, the Burleske did come together beautifully, though, and was then assisted during its third “Episode” by the brief and lovely solo moments of the oboe and viola especially.

A recipe for success in speeches and musical performance is to go out with a bang. Or, in the case of Mahler’s Ninth, with a spectacularly quiet whimper. That’s what Maazel did, with a seamless, cogent Adagio that—abide with me—exerted nice pull and established the necessary arc-in-the-building. The long line was picked up nicely again, after the first, vast, flute-filled lacuna during the symphony’s slow descend. The late mini-climaxes had a sledgehammer sensibility about them, but the triple pianissimos in the coda were very impressively quiet, even as the first violins struggled to make them consistently beautiful. The Munich audience applauded gratefully for a little while and left soon after Maazel, who had looked quite energetic to the podium, doddered off a good 80 minutes later.

Tonight, the second inauguration concert will feature some Wagner and Bruckner’s Third Symphony.

Pictures courtesy Munich Philharmonic, ©