Conductor Daniel Barenboim is doing three farewell concerts this week with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO). After about fifteen years of leading this great orchestra he will be moving on to other musical challenges in Europe. Barenboim chose three great pieces for his last three evenings with the CSO: Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. I was privileged to hear the CSO’s masterful performance of Mahler’s Ninth last evening. I was given this special evening of music as a birthday gift (my birthday was actually more than three months ago) by my dear friend, our ACT 3 board chairman and my own pastor, Dr. Wilbur Ellsworth. Wilbur is himself a highly trained musician thus his insights and commentary helped to make the evening even more memorable.
What can I say about Mahler’s Ninth? It is a very moving composition that reflects Mahler’s obsession with death. In various ways Mahler reveals musically how deeply shaken he was about his own demise. There is both majestic beauty and haunting silence in his music. Mahler died very young, May 18, 1911, at only 50 years of age. Sadly, his life was filled with great concern for his own future but with no real evidence of relationship to the true and living God. The symphony ends, much like death comes, gradually slipping away. I was deeply moved and yet felt great sadness about Mahler’s life. Classical music, at least in the pre-modern era, has so much power to move the soul. Mahler’s Ninth is one of the greatest such pieces ever written and thus moved me very deeply.