Monthly Archives: October 2014

Mahler’s 3rd Symphony: Why It’s Awesome

So the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra will be performing Mahler’s 3rd Symphony today and tomorrow. It is Mahler’s longest symphony and one of the longest in the symphonic repertoire. So make sure your bladders are empty and prepare for the next 100 minutes of awesomeness.

The singular thing that is interesting about the 3rd symphony is how Mahler structured it as part of his world-view, in fact not just world-view but how he looks at existence. In the 19th century, the science of evolution was really a hot topic and put into the mix people like Nietzsche, Wagner and Schopenhauer, it is really a big pot of intellectual stew.

The symphony is presented in two parts, Part 1 is the first movement whilst Part 2 consists of 5 movements as follows:

Part 1:

1. Pan Awakes. Summer Marches In

Part 2:

2. What the Flowers in the Meadow Tell Me

3. What the Animals in the Forest Tell Me

4. What Mankind Tells Me

5. What the Angels Tell Me

6. What Love Tells Me

From the above structure, you can see how Mahler is presenting the upwards movement from the beginning of inanimate nature when Pan Awakes and then the flowers, then the Animals, then Mankind, Angels and finally Love. Initially, Mahler wrote What God Tells Me but then finally changed in to What Love Tells Me because he views God through Love.

For a conductor to be able to present this work convincingly, he must look at this symphony in this manner, i.e. a progression and not treat each and every movement separately. Also, the first movement is clearly in its own separate part and the first movement is wild! The second part is tender and soft. It is almost like Part 1 is the Old Testament and Part 2 is the New Testament. So if the conductor tries to smoothen out Part 1 so that it is rounder and nice and be more in tune with Part 2, then he is making a big mistake.

Let’s see if the conductor tonight makes this mistake or not. But tonite we have Edo de Waart and he is not foreign to Mahler’s work having recorded for instance the box set with the Netherlands Radio Symphonic, although it is not a particularly inspiring set.

That aside, another interesting note about the Third Symphony is how Mahler almost called it My Happy Science.

From the above program you will notice that there is movement titled What Mankind Tells Me and this is a song setting on Nietzsche’s “Midnight Song” from his Also sprach Zarathustra. There are many associations made between Mahler and Nietzsche but there is a stark contrast between Mahler’s world view and Nietzsche’s world view.

For Nietzsche, it is a Godless world and the heavenly kingdom does not exist and what exists is only earthly kingdom. God is essentially dead and mankind has to be on their own and has to be strong, so strong he becomes an overman, or superman, and controls his own fate.

For Mahler, it is the opposite. As you can see from the progression, Mankind ascends into Heavenly Kingdom, God expressed through Love. In fact, this love is for all mankind and he almost called his work My Happy Science as opposed to Nietzsche’s The Happy Science (or The Gay Science).

In some aspects of it, Mahler’s view is that one finds happiness in love. For him God and Love is synonymous. In fact, like Schopenhauer, to him all love roots in compassion. To quote Schopenhauer,

“It means that we cannot be completely happy as long as there are others who are unhappy”

And for a Mahayana Buddhist, this rings true for a Boddhisatva, for how can one attain Nirvana whilst there are so many others that are still suffering? And as such, the Boddisatva postpones his/her attainment of Nirvana and comes back to the world to help others.

That’s all I wanted to say and to all of you attending the concert tonight and tomorrow, enjoy!!

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Some Films & Music

So here it is, the street of Fellini La Dolce Vita. I wasn’t able to re-enact any scenes there and it was also raining quite a bit but here is the plaque.

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Anyone who follows some movie news, or interested in films would have known that THE GREAT BEAUTY won the best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscar. The competition from Cambodia THE MISSING PICTURE and from Palestine OMAR are both really strong titles as well but then it seems the nostalgic ways of the Italians won the night, something of a statement, almost escapist in nature, over-riding very real events and issues that are happening in the world right now.

I watched THE GREAT BEAUTY twice and that is a 6-hour investment of my time. And it was worth it, of course. Indeed, it is reminiscent of our dear Fellini and of course LA DOLCE VITA and Marcello Mastroianni’s presence cannot be ignored but THE GREAT BEAUTY is so much more than that. In fact, calling it an “update” as I have read other reviews of LA DOLCE VITA borders on insult, in my opinion. LA DOLCE VITA did not go this deep, this introspective. Anyways, there are loads of reviews on the internet, so there is no need one from me here.

The other really good film is WINTER SLEEP which won the Palm d’Or at Cannes this year. And it is another 3 hour plus film. But you will not feel that 3 hours have passed. This is another really magnificent film. It is 3 hours of almost pure dialogue and ice covered land and of course Schubert’s piano sonata playing just at the right places adds a layer of mood, reflection, sometimes melancholic but it gives a sense of peace and laid-backness to the film.

At certain points, one is reminded of Richard Linklater or Woody Allen where the characters in the movie talks and talks, argues, debate etc on the topics of life and death, of civic consciousness, of evil, philosophy, etc and eventually talks about the inner feelings of the character itself and opens up a huge can of worm and the characters changes through the dialogues and transform themselves into something else.

It is quite funny that one will be interested in other people babbling on screen for three hours but yet, every minute of it seems interesting. I love movies like this, and therefore may be biased but if you enjoy BEFORE SUNSET, BEFORE SUNRISE, MANHATTAN, ANNIE HALL types of movies, and then go deeper, then there is a chance that you will like this film.

On the other hand, if you like more action oriented films, mystery/crime types of films, you can try BLACK COAL, THIN ICE by Chinese director Diao Yinan whom you may know for being the screen writer for the fun film SHOWER and then directed NIGHT TRAIN which got nominated in the same year for Un Certain Regard in Cannes together with BLIND MOUNTAIN. Both superb films back in 2007.

BLACK COAL, THIN ICE won the Golden Bear in Berlin this year seeing off THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL which I feel is really funky and fun but I agree BLACK COAL, THIN ICE is more deserving. It also sees off Alain Resnais final film LIFE OF RILEY, another really funky film where the use of stage play techniques is used in combination of the feature film format which I found quite interesting. Others include Yoji Yamada’s THE LITTLE HOUSE which is a warm film set during world war two which is quite nice to watch but I personally do not feel is much to really shout about in terms of originality but Yamada san is classic in his storytelling and you will feel warm in your heart watching this film.

So there you have some nice films that you may want to explore a bit amidst quite silly Hollywood titles now that is really very dumbed down and not remarkable at all. But popcorn movies they are, so go with just those expectations, even when you watch LUCY, which is nice but is really nothing to the films above. But it is not bad for a weekend of fun without much need to invest intellect nor too much time.

On the music front, isn’t it nice that the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra is going to play Mahler’s 3rd Symphony this coming 11 and 12 October? Mahler is KING!!! Mahler RULES!!

And the best is yet to come because Maestro Benjamin Zander will be back with the MPO for Mahler’s 2nd Symphony coming March 2015. WHAT??? BENJAMIN ZANDER?? WOW!!! Is he that guy that did the Ted Talk on classical music? YES! Is he the guy who came here in 2002 and played Mahler’s 9th and brought me to tears? Yes! Is this the Benjamin Zander that I also hosted with the Malaysian Mahlerites back then? Hell Yes! And here is from the maestro’s site itself: http://benjaminzander.com/journal/detail.php?id=7  Scroll down to read about our magical encounter with Ben who is nothing but truly inspiring and amazing.

It is truly wonderful. Great Movies, Great Music. Enjoyed with people you love. And these are the things that makes living a bit bearable, some of the reasons why life is worth living.

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