"This is music-making that confirms music's power to touch and transform"
- Christopher Lydon, WBUR'S "The Connection"
"He does not live on the music's nerve but rather broadly and far-sightedly through his emotions, shaped by the music's breath and pulse. I should love to watch him rehearse to see how he obtained that veiled valediction to song in the voices of the second violins and cellos in the symphony's opening: to track his work balancing so finely the equal and individual voices in this least-instrumentally hierarchical of scores."
- Hilary Finch, The London Times 1996 review of The Philharmonia Orchestra
Mahler 9th performance at the Barbican
Expecting The Unexpected David St. George
Musical Advisor to Benjamin Zander
I don't know how many of Ben's rehearsals and performances I've attended over the 30 years that we have been collaborating - many hundreds, certainly. You would think there would be no surprises left. But in fact the opposite is true - the only thing of which I can be absolutely sure with Ben is that I will be surprised - in every rehearsal, in every performance. He is like the proverbial well from which you can draw endlessly and that always remains full, beckoning you to return yet again.
Ben grew up in a deeply cultured family, steeped in 19th century German musical traditions. Yet he has spent a lifetime questioning those traditions, reevaluating received opinion about interpretation, about the fundamental meaning of the music he performs, about the very nature of the conductor's art itself. It has been an ongoing process of growth and change, for him, for his interpretations, for all the musicians and friends who have been fortunate enough to come into his orbit.
Remarkable is the meticulousness with which he studies scores - "investigates" them is maybe more apt (even "interrogates" sometimes comes to mind). In rehearsal with the orchestra, every trace of the scholar in his study disappears. Rehearsals are a testing ground for Ben's thoughts and feelings about the music - never for a moment doctrinaire or routinized repetitions, but rather impassioned quests, in which each player in the orchestra joins him in his attempt to find the most truthful and direct path to the meaning of every moment of the music.
But no matter how closely I follow the rehearsals, nothing quite prepares me for the impact of the performances themselves. What one hears in parts, fitfully in the rehearsals, as Ben shifts his attention from one aspect of the piece to another, coalesces at the time of performance into an unbroken arc of impassioned music-making. Despite the extraordinary care, the attention to detail, and the great intellectual understanding that underlie Ben's interpretations, the miraculous thing about the performances is that they seem to be made up at that moment, they seem to spring from one impulse and follow their course with an intuitive sort of inevitability from first note to last. Typically, audiences are spellbound, even the least musically tutored listeners are aware that something entirely out of the ordinary is happening.
And it never happens the same way twice. Ben has nothing but encomiums for his players, but I suspect that, in his heart, he is never truly satisfied with himself, that he feels there is always something more to be discovered, something more that he could give of himself, could give to the players, that would bring them all even closer to the heart of the work.
So, from performance to performance, nothing remains the same. I sit there, in my usual seat, expecting only the unexpected.
Benjamin Zander has been the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra (BPO) since its formation twenty-five years ago. To celebrate the orchestra's 25th Anniversary in 2003-2004, the BPO will perform an all-Mahler season, including a performance of Mahler's Second Symphony in Carnegie Hall. He also conducts the New England Conservatory Youth Philharmonic Orchestra (YPO), which, over the past thirty-three years of his tenure as Music Director, he has taken on thirteen international tours. He regularly conducts the orchestras at the New England Conservatory.
Over the last decade, Benjamin Zander has been a guest conductor all over the world, appearing frequently with the Philharmonia Orchestra in London. He is in the process of recording with them a series of Beethoven and Mahler symphonies for the Telarc label, which has garnered extraordinary critical acclaim and several prestigious awards (see Recordings).
In 2002 Mr. Zander made his debut with the Israel Philharmonic, and returned to conduct four performances of Mahler's Third Symphony with the orchestra in 2003.Recently he has also conducted orchestras as distant and diverse as the Bournemouth Symphony and the Malaysian Philharmonic in Kuala Lumpur.
He toured with the newly formed Youth Orchestra of the Americas to Washington, Rio de Janeiro and São Paolo, and appeared with the National Youth Orchestra of New Zealand in Wellington and Auckland. 2003-2004 will bring return engagements with the Israel Philharmonic, the Scottish and Irish National Orchestras, and debuts with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic and the Australian Youth Orchestra .
Mahler 9 - Has Changed My Life Forever Stephanie Moraly, a violinist from France
Graduate Student, The New England Conservatory
"I just came back from your Mahler 9, and I must write you because what happened
for me tonight was so powerful that I couldn’t even open my mouth to tell
you about it. Only silent words seem a possibility right now.
You took me through a journey that I had not expected possible. I went tonight
through life and death, love and fear, passion, torment, despair and renunciation...
During the brief instants of music that were – for the symphony seemed
to last only a few infinite seconds to me – I traveled a thousand years.
After the last note yielded to the universal silence, I felt like my life had
been taken away from me; the music had stolen it. I felt exhausted, drained.
I couldn’t even raise my hands to clap. I don’t even understand
how people found the strength to applaud; I simply could not. I know I should
have: it is what one is supposed to do when the music stops in a concert hall,
but it seemed to me that an eternity of silence meant to follow the last written
note. So, I just left. And I walked home in that silence, not knowing the world
around me. I wish I could thank you. Or thank Mahler. But what was present in
Jordan Hall tonight, that forced its way inside me, was neither you not Mahler,
but Music itself.