The mood in Heinz Hall was much more sedate and gentle as Jahja Ling took the conductor’s stand and raised his baton. The audience relaxed imperceptivity, as if they knew instinctually, even before the show began, that the program was going to be one of beauty and reflection, and not of power or passion. And, in its own way, it was a good change.
Due to some terrible traffic and a more than averagely busy evening, I missed the first piece: ‘Symphony No. 25 in G minor’ by Mozart. I was disappointed, but to tell the truth I was grateful that the Mozart piece was the one I missed. (I like Mozart, but all in all he’s not my favorite.) As I finally settled down in my seat I was drawn by the title, ‘Tod und Verklärung,’ or ‘Death and Transfiguration,’ by Richard Strauss. That seems like a pretty ambitious endeavor, I thought to myself.
I must admit that I have never experienced either death or transfiguration, but from what I have felt and thought of them over the years, Strauss’ music captured those emotions powerfully. The slow, steady pulse at the beginning, followed by flashes of motion and excitement, only to subside into the same peaceful beat, was unmistakably depicting the end drawing near. And yet there was not just a simple peace to the music—there was an underlying current of impatience, of impetuosity in the face of death, as if the dying person knew he had only a few breaths more in which to say or do something. That impatience gave me, as part of the audience, a chilling and fascinating glimpse of what it will be like to die. Just as Shakespeare put death so easily into words: ‘The delighted spirit to bathe in fiery floods, or to reside in thrilling region of thick-ribbed ice. To be imprisoned with the viewless winds and blown with restless violence round about the pendant world,’ Strauss seemed to grasp the knowledge of what it must be like to die and wove it into his music.
It is surely amazing that anyone would have such insight to write
music that would express death so vividly, but at the tender age of 25
it is even more impressive. And to not only grasp the concept of death,
but also the slight breaths of hope raising their whispering heads
through the heavier notes of turmoil gave the piece the wings it needed
to be airborne. With the recent and saddening death of one of the
orchestra members, it struck and poignant and meaningful chord.
I must admit I enjoyed Strauss’ piece the most, but Brahms’
‘Concerto No. 1 in D minor for Piano and Orchestra,’ was also quite
enjoyable. The length was impressive, and as the writing in the program
spoke of his young age, so I saw snatches of a more impassioned and
aggressive nature riddling his music. It’s funny to think of anyone
criticizing Brahms, especially for a piece like his ‘Concerto No. 1,’
but I could see how some people, either jealous of the young talent or
genuinely confused by it, could speak a little harshly. I, however,
enjoyed it greatly. Mr. Ax was, as always, a delight to hear and to
The concert was, as I said, not as rousing as some previous
concerts have been, but the music had deep significance and soothed the
rough edges off my day. I suppose I will not know until I die whether,
as Strauss said on his deathbed, ‘Death is just as I composed it in
“Tod und Verklärung,”’ but his music leaves surprisingly pleasant
thoughts to ponder just the same.