Yannick Nézet-Séguin loves Mahler's Symphony No.5 for many reasons. One is that it's a work that epitomizes everything that orchestral music can be.
"It is forever a very special piece for me because that was the first concert I conducted as music director designate of The Philadelphia Orchestra. And we recorded it live! And so it has very special significance."
Yannick also says it would be the perfect work to play for visitors from Mars. "Any people living outside the Earth" [who wanted to know] —what is orchestral music? You just say, okay, here's the example."
Mahler wrote the symphony during the summers of 1901 and 1902 at his new lakeside villa in the Austrian countryside during a pivotal period in his life. He had survived a major hemorrhage; he'd fallen in love and married Alma Schindler, who became pregnant with their first child. His fifth symphony is also packed with drama.
"It's a symphony that has everything, "says Yannick. "It's a symphony that has a tremendous darkness and moments of hushed pianissimos. And it's also a symphony that has outbursts of cries and despair. There's also a moving expression of love from Mahler to his new wife in the famous fourth movement, the Adagietto, written for harp and strings.
"It's the most intimate music ever in the Adagietto."
The five movement symphony is a monumental masterpiece that embraces the totality of life and musical tradition. "It does finish extremely brightly," says Yannick, "with a great fugue. So it's a tribute to the past—to Bach and the Baroque—but it also sends a message: [how we can move] from despair to hope."