Miami Symphony not ready for its Mahler close-up

By Lawrence Budmen

The Miami Symphony Orchestra performed Mahler's Symphony No. 1 Sunday night at New World Center.

The Miami Symphony Orchestra played music of late-19th-century Vienna Sunday night at the New World Center in Miami Beach. Path-breaking scores by Arnold Schoenberg and Gustav Mahler were a formidable test of the ensemble’s resources. Unfortunately, the resulting performances were uneven at best.

Schoenberg’s Verklarte Nacht (Transfigured Night) is one of the final masterpieces from the twilight of romanticism, a searing, densely chromatic portrait of tempest-tossed passions.  Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde deeply influenced Schoenberg’s work in which harmony and tonality are stretched to the breaking point. The score was originally conceived for string sextet with Schoenberg later producing an arrangement for string orchestra.

With concertmaster Daniel Andai leading from the first chair, six members of the Miami Symphony’s string section bravely attempted Schoenberg’s original sextet version. The work requires a level of precision and musicianship that seemed beyond the players’ reach. The performance veered from exaggerated to sluggish, lacking a clear sense of line and pulse. The ensemble was unbalanced with the two cellos often too loud and prominent. Persistent intonation problems plagued the performance, and even Andai, usually a solid player, seemed to be struggling.

Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 is a massive score that really demands a virtuoso orchestra. Conductor Eduardo Marturet clearly had rehearsed the symphony carefully and the enlarged ensemble made a strong effort at surmounting this difficult music.

Still, Sunday’s performance was less than satisfactory. Marturet showed little affinity for Mahler’s idiom, adopting fast, hard-driving tempos, projecting neither the angst nor the sunny Alpine vistas of Mahler’s visionary score. Despite the lilt of the Landler dance in the second movement, his interpretation seemed too generalized. The irony of the funeral march was missing and the finale was rather tame and fleet, lacking a sense of struggle.

The string section, long the orchestra’s strongest asset, was too small for this work, sometimes overwhelmed by the extra winds and brass. With eight horns placed on the left side of the stage, in front of the harp, balances went awry. Persistent burbles in the horns and trumpets were all too clear in the hall’s live acoustics.

To be sure, there were fine individual moments. Much of the mystery of the symphony’s opening pages was well conveyed through the bird calls of the fine solo oboe over soft, eerie strings. In the funeral march, the bass solo was vivid and precise and the klezmer band episode well articulated  by enthusiastic trumpets and clarinets.

Although the reprise of Mahler’s nature painting by harp and strings was beautifully done, there were passages in the finale where the orchestra was scrambling to stay together. Ultimately, even with the Miami Symphony’s improvement over recent seasons, Mahler’s symphonic canvas still seems too high a mountain to climb for this ensemble.

Posted in Performances

6 Responses to “Miami Symphony not ready for its Mahler close-up”

  1. Posted Apr 02, 2012 at 11:43 am by Daniel R Lewis

    Mr Budman,
    The audience certainly disagreed with your review, as the orchestra was rewarded with a resounding standing ovation. Certainly the performance was not perfect (I attended both shows with the previous evening being a better well rounded performance), but there was a great energy and spirit, with some truly great moments.
    As you have rightly stated, the orchestra has improved tremendously over the past several years. All the group needs to get to that next level is a supportive community that realizes that a home-grown orchestra is a tremendous sense of pride for a city—after all there is only ONE Miami Symphony Orchestra. Hopefully those select few who are guiding revenue into the city of Cleveland will one day realize what a shame it is, that the city of Miami is the only Major city in America without a full time professional orchestra named after it. Nevertheless, MISO will persevere and will continue truly creating a unique orchestra that represents the city of Miami in all of its eclectic ways.

  2. Posted Apr 02, 2012 at 12:36 pm by Kenneth Martinson

    This is what happens when you have a leader like Marturet who refuses to hold auditions so the best player can win the job. Cronyism and nepotism will always produce unsatisfactory results.

  3. Posted Apr 02, 2012 at 9:52 pm by satchmo

    Appreciate your honesty and diplomacy, Mr. Budman

  4. Posted Apr 03, 2012 at 9:17 am by Mario

    Mahler is one of the harder composers for a symphony to perform. Was surprised that this newby symphony would attempt such a task.

  5. Posted Apr 03, 2012 at 4:00 pm by Musicyo

    I agree to Mr. Budmen for the most part. The only thing he forgot is that, if you looked carefully at the last concert, most members of the orchestra were not the regular members that have been the cause for the tremendous Improvement the orchestra level has had for the last few seasons. Most Musicians in key positions were subs, mostly students. The main problem is that most of the regular professional players from the orchestra have been engaging into other numerous Performances and Musical opportunities with other ensembles both in and out of town because, mainly, the financial inconsistency the orchestra has encounter since last season. Musicians are not been paid or have been paid even up to 6 month later which make very difficult to keep the core musicians engaged. There should be more support for this orchestra in order to keep the talented musicians performing in one and each program. Every single program this season has had many different faces in most sections of the orchestra which makes the building of a particular sound and level to difficult to approach. This Orchestra and the City deserve to have the proper funding. Musically talking, Once again I support Mr. Budmen’s Appreciation.

  6. Posted Apr 04, 2012 at 3:24 pm by Miso Musician

    As a member of the Miami Symphony Orchestra, I feel the record must be set straight from the previous comment. The members who were playing this concert, where in fact virtually the same people who have been playing all year. There was not a single student sub in any principal position—all (minus the principal bassoon–who was fantastic) were regular MISO members.
    Every orchestra has concerts that are not as strong as others. Look at Lawrence Johnson’s review from Mahler 1 of New World Symphony from a few years ago on this site. It happens, plain and simple. The fact is that this concert was not as good as it could have been, but it does not mean that this orchestra can not or should not play Mahler 1. The concert the night before was fantastic…it just was an off night.
    As great of a hall as NWC is, it has its difficulties. Performing a piece like Mahler 1 there without a full rehearsal, is not easy. This is not an excuse, just a reality.
    If you go back and read the reviews from this entire season, they have ALL been positive. This was in fact the first one that Mr. Budmen reviewed which may mean that it was the first concert he has been to this season. That is a shame. The orchestra is in a constant state of improvement, and is growing together, with an amazing sense of positivity, despite difficulties. It is a true testament to the will of many members of this group to carry on.
    The haters will always be out in full force when something does not go as well as it can. But we will leave them to sulk in their own venom, but I truly hope they can find happiness and peace in their own lives.

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Mon Apr 2, 2012
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