by James Rosenfield
Photo credit: Ian Douglas, The New York Times
There was both a sense of gravitas and relief when the venerable Bernard Haitink arrived on the Avery Fisher Hall stage Friday night. Slow and halt the last time I saw the Dutch conductor on the podium, Haitink's pace was now quick and vigorous, his posture erect. He used a chair at the podium only between movements.
Put a justly esteemed Mahler conductor in front of a great Mahler orchestra and magic can occur—which is exactly what happened Friday night when Haitink conducted the New York Philharmonic in Mahler's enormous Third Symphony, which clocked in at an expansive 98 minutes.
This is a symphony that begins with a double parody and ends with one of the great love hymns in all of music. The opening brass oration imitates the big tune in the last movement of Brahms's First Symphony, itself an imitation of Beethoven's iconic Ode to Joy from the Ninth Symphony. An homage to both composers, this is Mahler's self-aware statement of his aspirations to transform the symphonic form.