Since Beethoven, Ninth Symphonies have been both a cause of joy — and dread. In the wake of Beethoven’s No. 9, composers view that massive, ethereal, choral symphony as a sort of musical Everest. And then there's the fact that the composer never lived to write a 10th.
Gustav Mahler, so fearful of embarking on a Ninth Symphony of his own, insisted that the large orchestral work after his Eighth Symphony be titled “The Song of the Earth.” Mahler eventually swallowed his fears and wrote another large work and called it his Ninth Symphony -- it can be heard at Walt Disney Hall three times this weekend as part of the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Mahler cycle -- but the fact that he died the following year while writing his 10th Symphony only added to the mystique around Ninths.
The theme of mortality was certainly in the air Tuesday night at Carnegie Hall, which saw the American debut of Philip Glass’ Ninth Symphony. Reached by phone two days after the premiere, Glass admitted, “Everyone is afraid to do a Ninth Symphony. It’s not that it killed off Beethoven, Schubert, Mahler … but it is a funny kind of jinx that people think about.”
No doubt. A recording of the Glass Symphony No. 9 is available on iTunes as played a month ago by the Bruckner Orchester Linz. It debuted Tuesday, and as of Thursday was No. 15 on the iTunes top 100 albums chart.
At Carnegie, Glass’ 50-minute work was scheduled as a 75thbirthday for the composer and programmed opposite Arvo Part’s “Lamentate,” a requiem for the living.