Knowing when to stop

Saturday night I went to the symphony.  The program was interesting.  The first number was a Mozart piano concerto.  The guest soloist was an interesting performer.  He nodded and bobbed his head while waiting for his cue to join the orchestra.  Then he tipped his head back as though he was sniffing the notes from the air and transmitting them to his fingers.  At times he’d turn his face totally away from the conductor and look at the audience … all the while playing beautifully.

The second part of the program was Mahler’s Ninth Symphony.  Our conductor has studied this piece for a long time but said he didn’t feel like he would be up to conducting it until he was 50.  In July he celebrated his 50th birthday so this was the season.  He and the orchestra did a superb job.  I had never heard this music.  What a great introduction to it they gave me.

But I do think Mahler didn’t know when to quit.  The piece takes 80 minutes to perform.  By the time we got well into the fourth movement, I was ready to quit listening.  There were several places where it sounded like the orchestra had reached the end … but then a section would take up the theme again and on they would go.  The program said that Mahler never heard this symphony performed.  I think if he had, he might have revised it and picked one of those other stopping spots to end it.  Even the greatest composers need to know when to stop.

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