No, the scare quotes are not sardonic (as in the Onion‘s great headline, “Jacques Derrida ‘Dies'”), but a reference to Mahler’s Second.
I once had — maybe still do somewhere — a cassette tape with a recording, made off the radio, of what (I believe) was the sole performance of Leonard Bernstein conducting the Cleveland Orchestra, at the Blossom Music Festival in 1970, in Mahler’s Second Symphony, the “Resurrection.” I recall that it was really a superb interpretation. (Has anyone heard it? I can’t find it on YouTube or anywhere else.) I also recall the radio announcer saying that Szell had regarded Bernstein as a charlatan and therefore had repeatedly blocked him, except this once– (presumably because Szell was incapacitated from illness and in the hospital) — from conducting “his,” Szell’s, beloved and expert orchestra.
That characterization seems confirmed by a description of the event in the book giving the history of the Cleveland Orchestra (The Cleveland Orchestra Story: “Second to None”). According to the book (p. 395), Bernstein when in Cleveland to conduct went to visit Szell in the hospital, “wearing a string of worry beads given to him by Maria Callas,” but Szell’s wife stood at the door to Szell’s room and blocked him from entering! “Mrs. Szell remembered something else about the conductor, who was dressed from neck to toes in one chic color: ‘He looked like a white cupcake.'” Oh well, obviously no love lost among them.
I loved Szell’s Cleveland Orchestra above any other when I was a child and even now think many of their recordings are among the best ever made. But the Orchestra seems to have fallen from its heights — judging from what I heard at a concert by them in Miami last February. Or maybe they tend to treat their Miami sojourn as a long beach vacation. Anyway, the orchestra was ragged, entrances were staggered, intonation was strained, solo playing was uninspired, and I never heard so many split notes in a professional orchestra among the horns. (But I am spoiled. I have listened now to thousands of hours of live performances of the current Berlin Philharmonic, and I have not heard a single mistake in the horn playing.) I left thinking that Franz Welser-Möst must be a very poor Director, as he had overseen the clear decline of what used to be one of the world’s top five orchestras (as Cleveland was in the late 1990s when I last heard them, at the Edinburgh Festival).
Heck, might as well add this painting I love so much, of Mahler conducting, by Max Oppenheimer in the Belvedere Museum, Vienna: