Conductors Conducting the Climax of Mahler 2

The Symphony No. 2 by Gustav Mahler is the biggest, most epic symphonic statement since Beethoven’s 9th. It’s subtitled “Resurrection,” and the work climaxes with the words:

O Pain, You piercer of all things,
From you, I have been wrested!
O Death, You conqueror of all things,
Now, are you conquered!

With wings which I have won for myself,
In love’s fierce striving,
I shall soar upwards
To the light which no eye has penetrated!

Die shall I in order to live.
Rise again, yes, rise again,
Will you, my heart, in an instant!
That for which you suffered,
To God shall it carry you!

Mahler wrote the text himself and set it to the most glorious, heaven-storming music that had ever been written.

Here’s what it sounds like:

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No doubt, Bernstein is the best. He seems to be genuinely reacting to the ecstasy of the moment. As you can imagine, such an epic musical and poetic statement elicits an incredible amount of podium histrionics from various conductors. A close second to Bernstein, in terms of raw emotional choreography, is Sir Simon Rattle.

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You’d think Gustavo Dudamel would have a similarly crazy reaction to this music–after all, one of the great inspirations in his life is Leonard Bernstein–but here, he is remarkably restrained.

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Oh, sure, he’s still into the music, but not with his trademark unbridled passion.

If there’s one general consistency throughout conductors’ interpretations of Mahler 2, it’s that the mouth must be open. From typically reserved Claudio Abbado…

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…to the exuberance of Zubin Mehta.

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Valery Gergiev (not famous for being a Mahler conductor) tries to keep his mouth closed…and, it seems, choke back some tears.

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Myung-whun Chung has ice in his veins and wields his baton with the precision of a surgeon.

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Pierre Boulez has steely resolve that borders on stoicism. (Would you expect anything else from Pierre Boulez?)

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Mariss Jansons wins the award for Best Facial Expression.

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Christoph Eschenbach wins the award for Best Head Movement.

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And Riccardo Chailly wins the award for Most Deranged.

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So, there you have it. The many faces of the ecstasy and bliss that is Mahler’s Second Symphony. Now, go listen to a complete performance of it. I suggest this one:

11 Conductors Who Are Doing Something Else While Conducting

1. Herbert von Karajan grumpily churning the butter.

Karajan Churning Butter

 

2. Valery Gergiev mostly likely suffering from food poisoning.

Gergiev Has Food Poisoning

 

3a. Gustavo Dudamel suddenly noticing there’s a scorpion on his hand.

Dudamel Scorpion

3b. Gustavo Dudamel touches a hot stove and refuses to learn that he will get burned.

Dudamel Hot Stove

 

4. Pierre Boulez brings you the glass of wine you ordered which he totally disapproves of.

Boulez as a Waiter

 

5. Otto Klemperer does not want anyone disturbing his nap. Even Beethoven.

Klemperer Falling Asleep

 

6a. Esa-Pekka Salonen surfing while high, dude.

Salonen Surfing High

6b. Esa-Pekka Salonen is an angry Atlanta Braves fan.

Salonen Tomahawk Chop

 

7. Carlos Kleiber casually pulling a tiny baby out of his pocket.

Kleiber Baby Pocket

 

8a. Sir Simon Rattle: sex machine.

Rattle Watching

8b. Sir Simon Rattle reenacting a few tricks from his Vegas magic show.

Rattle Magic Tricks

 

9. Charles Munch talking to himself and not caring what you think.

Munch Talks to Himself

 

10a. Leonard Bernstein trying and failing to keep his heart from exploding.

Bernstein Ectsasy

 

10b. Leonard Bernstein looking like someone who’s really happy about stabbing his wife.

Bernstein Stabbing

 

11. Stanisław Skrowaczewski is genuinely moved by the music.

Skrowaczewski is Moved