By accident, because of the postponement of one of last year’s concerts, this season is framed by performances of music’s two great Ninths. That of Mahler is, of course, the “other” Ninth, but, astonishingly, no less great, or moving, or influential, than the “original” Ninth. Like Beethoven, Mahler seems to have summed up his ultimate message to humanity in a final, big, public work that seems like a last will and testament. Written in the shadow of death, which the composer knew was not far off, the symphony speaks of final things. In it one hears Mahler’s final thoughts about mortality, about life in all the complexity of its struggle, about the harrowing fear of death, and the peace that settles in as one contemplates death not as an end but as a kind of melting into the infinite.
It is the cornerstone work for the Boston Philharmonic, which was formed immediately after, and partially in response to, Mr. Zander’s first performance of the work in 1978. Mr. Zander has returned to the piece many times with the Philharmonic, and many other orchestras, constantly reconsidering and deepening his now-famous interpretation.
This season, which is an anniversary both for the orchestra and for its conductor, has a distinctly retrospective tone. But for all of us, playing the Mahler Ninth again is truly like coming home.