Heartsickness. That was the theme of the Yale Symphony Orchestra’s Saturday night concert. A mixture of modern compositions and unfinished classical standards, the program made for a dynamic yet occasionally surprising performance. The evening began with an ambitious piece titled “Heart-throb” by Yale director of University bands Thomas Duffy. The arrangement was less symphonic than the standard YSO fare, and sounded much like the film-scores present in the YSO’s Halloween Show last month. Duffy wrote “Heart-throb” for the 150th anniversary of the Yale School of Medicine, using the persistent ‘thump-thump’ of a large red drum onstage to illustrate the various medical abnormalities of the human heart. Heart palpitations, faulty valves, and a trip to the emergency room (with the help of a hand-cranked siren) were audible and easily recognizable. At times the piece walked the line between a crowd-pleasing gimmick and a concept-driven musical masterpiece.
Moving on to Schubert’s Symphony No. 7 in B Minor, guest conductor Jacob Joyce MUS ’15 showed excellent control of the orchestra; the strings were kept under control during the delicate opening of the first movement, and Joyce kept all transitions smooth. In the second movement the flutes had a brief but beautiful solo. It was altogether a gentle, stirring rendition of one of Schubert’s last works.
The Adagio of Mahler’s unfinished Symphony No. 10 took up all of the second half of the concert. The Austrian composer required the expertise of YSO music director Toshiyuki Shimada, who drew out of the orchestra the crowning performance of the evening. Shimada gave a humorous speech after the intermission about Mahler’s heart problem: his heartbreak over his wife Alma Mahler’s love affair with Walter Gropius. The speech tried to link, with moderate success, the unfinished nature of the Schubert and Mahler to the unfinished life of the heart attack patient in Duffy’s piece. All that fell by the wayside when Shimada mounted the conductor’s podium, a podium which Mahler himself once conducted from while visiting Yale with the Philharmonic Society of New York (now known as the New York Philharmonic.)
The horns, a central feature in much of Mahler, blended seamlessly with the rest of the orchestra. The strings swelled several times to a crescendo as Shimada beckoned with his left hand for more sound. Although Mahler died before the symphony was completed, the YSO performed a piece of music that seemed as fully realized and polished as any other. If the orchestra continues to pull at our heartstrings in this way, we might need a trip to the emergency rooms ourselves.