Last Saturday night, the New York Philharmonic played a single work: Mahler’s Symphony No. 6. This promised to be a very good concert. The orchestra’s music director, Jaap van Zweden, would be on the podium. But he suffered a shoulder injury the previous week and had to withdraw. The concert was a very good one nonetheless.

Van Zweden was replaced by Simone Young, an Australian conductor who has worked extensively in Europe, and extensively in opera.

What do the first pages of the Mahler Sixth need? They need drive, energy, intensity. They also need a steady, relentless pulse. Maestro (Maestra?) Young provided all of those things. Personally, I like more extreme dynamics: louder louds, softer softs—more sudden crescendos and decrescendos. But Young’s, in their moderation, were perfectly fine.

Also, we had some keen, daring trumpet playing early on. This came courtesy of the orchestra’s principal, Christopher Martin.

Young was clear about what she wanted from the orchestra and got it. Mahler’s first movement was nicely breathed. It was also precise. Young emphasized certain dissonances and harmonies, but did not overemphasize them. Portamentos tended to be liberal but not gross. The Philharmonic could have played with more warmth at times—but that is often the case, in assorted repertoire.

As the first movement neared its end, I thought of a phrase—not a phrase of music but some words: “clarity within hurly-burly.” You need this in many Mahler movements, including this one.

The principal flute and the principal clarinet—Robert Langevin and Anthony McGill—sang well together (and separately). And the principal horn, Richard Deane, proved manful in this movement, as he would in the symphony at large.

Take note, too, of the concertmaster, Frank Huang. Mahler must have sweetness out of this player—and that he got.

As the first movement neared its end, I thought of a phrase—not a phrase of music but some words: “clarity within hurly-burly.” You need this in many Mahler movements, including this one. Simone Young achieved it. At the end of the movement, a woman in the audience said, “Wow,” and others laughed, appreciatively.

The second movement is the Scherzo. Or is it the Andante? Conductors have arranged these movements in different orders, as Mahler did before them. On Saturday night, the Scherzo was in the second position. I like this, in part because it patterns Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. The energy, or momentum, is kept going.

Simone Young did her part. I thought of another phrase, this one from the American Founding: “energy in the executive.”

A bonus in this Scherzo was its trio, which was insouciant, graceful, lilting, and weird. Very Mahler.

After this movement was over, many in the audience applauded, as they had after the first, and as they would after the third. The audience was stocked with students. I think they found it natural to applaud, and Mahler would have agreed with them. Simone Young never turned around to acknowledge the applause, even with a nod. Some old-school conductors do this—for example, Neeme Järvi. I like this school.

A bonus in this Scherzo was its trio, which was insouciant, graceful, lilting, and weird. Very Mahler.

In any case, Young took relatively little time between movements. She marched right along. I liked this, too. Why? Well, in part because I grew up with records (or cassettes or CDs). I became accustomed to the space between tracks. How about you?

From Young and the Philharmonic, the Andante was fine, just fine. But, greedy, I wanted more: more warmth, more tenderness, more nostalgia. The reading was just slightly cold, I think—but that was better than bathetic, by a long shot.

The Finale was brisk and bracing—good. Yet I would have liked a little Bernsteinian luxuriating. I’m somewhat surprised to hear myself say this. My younger self would not have. Was I right then, or now? Furthermore, you could have faulted this movement on Saturday night for being unrelievedly loud.

But this was a gratifying account nonetheless—the whole symphony—and both conductor and orchestra are to be congratulated for their stamina: mental stamina, more than physical. They did not put this piece on auto-pilot. It was intelligent, correct, and moving.

I will close with a little secret: I’ve always loved the Mahler Sixth, because you love all nine (plus the one movement of the Tenth). But I’ve always loved many other Mahler symphonies a lot more. On Saturday night, I left the hall with increased awe at the Sixth.

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