Mahler 5 - Reviewed by Dawn Brook | Regional News Connecting Wellington

Photo by NZSO/Jono Tucker

Mahler 5

Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by: Gemma New

Michael Fowler Centre, 5th Apr 2024

Reviewed by: Dawn Brook

Conductor Gemma New was on fire throughout this performance and she drew an impassioned response from the orchestra, soloist, and audience. 

Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 was the major work of the concert. Two works preceded it which, in contrast to Mahler’s abstract music, had a concept to convey. Salina Fisher’s Kintsugi was beautifully evocative of the Japanese practice of using melted gold to reassemble broken pottery. Fisher has stated that for her, “Kintsugi is a metaphor for embracing brokenness and imperfection as a source of strength.” The gold shimmered while limpid and singular sounds shot through the denser orchestration.

Losing Earth, a percussion concerto by American composer Adam Schoenberg, sought to raise awareness of climate threats. Particularly dramatic were the drum rolls from all corners of the auditorium and the sudden silences intended to force focus on the threats. It was not all noisy: Schoenberg also magicked up a great translucent watery world to highlight sea-level rise. The soloist was the extraordinarily rhythmic Jacob Nissly from the San Francisco Symphony, who displayed such athleticism as he moved around his array of instruments and such co-ordination to simultaneously wield drum mallets on one instrument while his foot operated another. The audience loved it.

But it was, in the end, the Mahler symphony that really electrified the audience. Profound sadness and mourning, chaos and frenzy eventually gave way to serenity, love, and merriment. This symphony is always wonderful for its depth and range of feeling, but truly I think this was an exceptional performance. One has to acknowledge the horn and trumpet players for their delivery of some of the most dramatic moments, but the intensity of the whole orchestra’s playing throughout was even more striking. New’s interpretation of the work and her ability to draw the shape and passion she wanted from NZSO players were exceptional.

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