In the early years when I had moved to Minnesota from Boston — via San Francisco and New York City — I had never heard of Gustav Mahler. His music had been the rave of New York for some time — Leonard Bernstein being one of Mahler’s greatest champions. But I attended a luncheon concert of the Minnesota Orchestra quite by chance, and my life changed forever…
This was back in the days when the Minnesota Orchestra was not great. The players were bored. They were more interested in their poker games in the downstairs lounge at Orchestra Hall than they were in the music they were performing. They knew all the old war horses by heart. They did not even need a conductor. Even worse, the one they had most of the time was reportedly becoming senile. He had had to stop mid-stream in a performance of the Stravinsky Sacre du Printemps because he had become hopelessly confused.
–I should say that I was studying flute with Sid Zeitlin, the Principal Flute, at that time, sometimes at Orchestra Hall, so my recollections are either from things I saw first-hand or heard via him–
So there I was, sitting calmly in my seat on the isle, mid-section of the main floor, that morning, expecting to fall asleep as during a bad sermon, but still mildly hopeful of hearing something truly musical. I don’t recall the rest of the program. Whatever it was had completely lulled me into complacency.
The guest conductor that day was Klaus Tennstedt. I had not heard of him either, and was not terribly impressed with his first half of the concert. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klaus_Tennstedt
I was prepared to accept yet another grim reminder of how not to perform orchestral music.
But then, the Mahler First Symphony began.
The ‘Titan’, it was called.
My ears perked up. Before long I was listening with my entire being. His world came alive to me. I was no longer just sitting in a cushioned seat — I was transported to another time and place.
The Third Movement, with its mocking motif of “Frere Jacques” caused me to sit up in shock. It was as though Mahler was describing the fallen angel in the Mozart vortex who attacks my family and me. Who had caused my Father to nearly succeed in ending his own life. How could he possibly know this? I wondered. Nobody else had ever done this.
The opening passage of the last movement shrieked inside my head. Mahler was speaking to me from the vortex. I shook my head in disbelief. I thought I was going to faint.
How did Mahler get inside my head? I asked myself…
And so he had…
And my quest began in earnest…
I became a frantic and fanatic Mahlerian. I have been so ever since.
And, according to his wife, Alma, Mahler’s final words were “Mozart! Mozart! Mozart!’
Mahler was the first inter-continental conductor, transiting by ship from Europe to New York. He was one of the first conductors of the orchestra that became the New York Phil. Carnegie Hall was his venue.
I realized that it was Mahler who had brought the Mozart vortex from Vienna to New York.
At a great price — he died at an early date and in a tragic way…
His widow, Alma, remarried and lived a long life. She maintained a home in NYC until her death in 1964.
But what happened after that? The fallen angel kept trying to attack and entrap my children and me in Minnesota. We seemed to be free-falling into the vortex ourselves, with no direction known.
That is, until this unique and completely unexpected possible connection to Minnesota-born Bob Dylan surfaced.
And now, it just may be that this is what is catapulting us into our destiny after all…