Image Credit: Chris Lee

In these chaotic times, music has the ability to raise the spirit.  Without borders, it transcends the politics of walls and exclusion.   This past Monday, Mahler For Vision, a Concert for the Restoration of Vision at Carnegie Hall showed that we can overcome that which divides us to create greater well-being.  The goal is to end treatable cataract blindness worldwide.  The ability to bring new life – a life with vision, to over 100 million women, men, and children through simple surgical procedure is truly a wonderful mission.  Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 in C minor dovetails perfectly with this mission, a towering work of thematic ‘Resurrection’ in life and beyond.

200 musicians from 22 countries and 72 different orchestras assembled together for one common cause to make music, beautiful music to support this great cause.  Conductor George Mathew understood this moment in history explaining in a pre-concert talk that Gustav Mahler was an immigrant, and adding, “contributions of people who erase boundaries are far too great to measure and far too great to ignore.”  By working together, Mr. Mathew stressed the importance of a better future ahead “for the most vulnerable of our fellow human beings.”

Image Credit: Chris Lee

Mahler had strong philosophical leanings towards life and music.  The Symphony No. 2 is a culmination of a spiritual journey that took over six years to synthesise between 1888 and 1894.  The dramatic nature of the first movement Totenfeier (With complete gravity and solemnity of expression) is a continuation of the “symphonic poem” he was working with in his first symphony.  Both works were born from troubling personal times, Mahler was jilted by a lover without warning.

In the second symphony, Mahler finds resurrection and conclusion to his work in the unlikeliest of places – a funeral.  He wrote about the work, “I entitled the first movement Totenfeier, and if you want to know, it’s the hero of my symphony in d major (the first one) whom I bury here and whose life I catch from a higher point of view in a pure mirror. At the same time there is the big question: Why did you live? Why did you suffer? Is all this only a big terrible fun? We will have to find any answer to these questions if we should continue to live – yet even if we should continue to die! If ever somebody has heard this call in his life – he will have to give an answer, and I give that answer in the last movement”

Mahler finishes his great work with a poem in order to balance the power of the first movement.   The poem takes its start from a memorial service of another great conductor and pianist Hans von Bulow, who ironically dismissed Mahler’s earlier version of the work saying, “it had surpassed all acceptable bounds of dissonance.”  Great art always comes perseverance.  How wrong von Bulow was, as Mahler went on to be one of the most influential composers of the twentieth century and the Symphony No. 2 continues to be a spine-tingling affair today.

Voice takes centre stage in the grand finale that lasts over 30 minutes.  Indre Thomas, soprano and Susanne Metzer, mezzo-soprano with singers from the MASTERVOICES chorus unfurl the true vocal power of the last movement, expanding the great acoustics of Carnegie Hall with their angelic tones and heraldry.

With Wings which I have won,

In love’s fierce striving,

I shall soar upwards

To the light which no eye has ever seen!

Image Credit: Chris Lee

Music For Life International takes its name from the MUSIC FOR LIFE concert organised by Leonard Bernstein in 1987 to benefit AIDS victims.  Bernstein understood the power of music to heal.  This spirit lives on.  Mahler for Vision is Mr. Mathew’s seventh global humanitarian concert since 2006, his last being Shostakovich for the Children of Syria in January 2014.

George Mathew is a shining example of my father, Leonard Bernstein’s creed that art can ‘do work in the world.’ He has worked tirelessly through music to move and uplift people.

~ Alexander Bernstein, President, Leonard Bernstein Foundation

Our souls are filled with beauty but it is vision that brings it to light.   More information on programming and how to donate can be found at http://music4lifeinternational.org/Music_for_Life_International/Home.html.

-JSB