The Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra scored a triumph in Salzburg’s Felsenreitschule this evening, with round after round of boisterous applause and foot-stomping. On the podium, the almost-youthful Herbert Blomstedt, who is actually as old as any four orchestra members combined. But this in no way made him any less enthusiastic, and the warm bond between Blomstedt and the orchestra became immediately apparent.
The concert led off with Mozart’s Symphony #39, a work in which the playful composer switched directions several times. Just when the symphony looked to go one way, Mozart went the other. Blomstedt accentuated these jumps, and the skillful musicians smiled back.
This was my first time in the Felsenreitschule, a concert hall made for the Salzburg Festival, built out of a former Prince-Archbishop’s stables carved into the mountainside. I found the hall a bit odd – the seating in the theater is symmetrical, but not centered in the room. The stage is used by the Festival for opera productions, and so many of the sets, as well as scaffolding, cluttered the sides around the orchestra, making it feel like they were performing in a warehouse (while we were sitting in a theater that did not quite match). The acoustics are supposed to be excellent – it is what made Max Reinhardt and the other founders of the Festival want to use this space, but for the Mozart the orchestra sounded a bit distant.
Yet the orchestra on stage for Mozart was small. After the intermission, the full orchestra emerged for Dvořák’s Symphony #9, and they no longer sounded distant. This was odd, because the sound should depend on the number of instruments playing and their volume, and not the number of instruments sitting on stage (in other words, the big passages in the Mozart still sounded distant, whereas the quieter passages scored for only a few instruments in the Dvořák did not. Perhaps it took this long to warm up (the hall indeed felt warmer as the night wore on).
Blomstedt and the orchestra continued to have fun with the Dvořák, particularly the syncopated rhythms where they accentuated the dance. Ultimately, they went directly to a dance, one of Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances came as an encore that shook the hall. Talented playing all around – remarkable woodwinds (especially the English Horn solo in the Dvořák; although the flutist for the Dvořák was no where near as good as his colleague who had performed for the Mozart, and who reminded me of my sister).