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Unwell conductor begins to leave before concert’s end, as London Symphony Orchestra rallies round him

I’m ditching my suit to create a more relaxed mood for young players at Euros : Gareth Southgate
Published Time: 13.05.2024 - 14:40:27 Modified Time: 13.05.2024 - 14:40:27

The great Michael Tilson Thomas was supported by a superbly professional orchestra to finish the final movement of Mahler’s Third Symphony Mark Allan Sometimes the meaning of a musical performance soars above those purely musical qualities we critics love so much

The great Michael Tilson Thomas was supported by a superbly professional orchestra to finish the final movement of Mahler’s Third Symphony

: Mark Allan

Sometimes the meaning of a musical performance soars above those purely musical qualities we critics love so much. Because of some unforeseen event it takes on a different, more purely human value. And yet that human quality becomes entwined in some mysterious way with the performance, so we hardly know what it is that’s stirring our feelings so deeply: something human or something musical.

So it was with last night’s concert from the London Symphony Orchestra, when the the great conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, ill and frail, became confused and seemed to about to leave the podium; but the sympathetic superbly professional orchestra gently supported him and the performance through to the end.

The one work in the programme was Gustav Mahler’s  Third Symphony. It is excessive in every way: madly long and cast in six movements, it romps through every kind of human experience: sinister funeral marches, raucous street parades, elfin dances of almost unbearable sweetness, Fiddler on the Roof-style squawkings. And at the centre is Nietzsche’s hymn to the human longing for eternity.

To hold all this together is a hugely taxing thing for any conductor, but especially so for Tilson Thomas, the American conductor who’s been a much-loved member of the LSO family for almost 40 years. He’s been suffering from a brain cancer for some years, and as he came onstage he seemed a frail but also endearingly eccentric figure, chatting to players as he made his slow way to the podium. He’s as lean and perfectly tailored as ever, with a delight in elegantly precise gestures that seem strangely inapt for Mahler, where rapturously expansive expressivity is the norm.  

: Mark Allan

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