I'm a violinist in Lexington Symphony and have been practicing my part to Mahler's Fifth Symphony, preparing for our concert Saturday, November 10, 8pm at Cary Hall. Gustav Mahler, the great late Romantic (1860-1911), was not one for small ideas. This particular symphony has inspired comparisons to climbing Mount Everest, a religious experience and even the birth of new cosmic worlds. I search for hints of apotheosis in my violin part, and wonder what the full effect will be when we perform this piece all together, neighbor to neighbor, friend to friend, in the acoustic warmth of Cary Hall.
You might recognize this symphony’s famous Adagietto movement for harp and strings: it’s beautiful, aching and nostalgic.
“Nostalgic” is the part that gets me, for personally, there is a tinge of “Mad Men era” about Mahler. This music was championed by Leonard Bernstein and was having a heyday when I was a child, in the late sixties/early seventies.
I have a hazy memory of going with my parents to hear Bernstein conduct the New York Philharmonic in a Mahler performance in NYC. My sister (a violist) and I, young critics, thought Bernstein moved around on the podium an awful lot. We were much too demure in our Sunday best to be part of the wild cheering at the end, but something about the dramatic intensity of that performance stuck with me. Another concert-goer to a Bernstein performance of Mahler put it this way: “By the climactic cymbal crash my heart was pounding and I was gasping for breath, dripping with sweat. My date thought I was having a heart attack. Throughout dinner afterwards I sat stunned, unable to speak” (Sedgwick Clark, editor of Musical America, http://www.leonardbernstein.com/pfr/pfr_winter02.pdf).
Dripping with sweat, unable to speak. It does sound a bit like climbing Mount Everest, in the best possible way.
We will be playing Mahler 5 under conductor Jonathan McPhee, for whom Bernstein was a mentor. Jonathan will have his own interpretation, and it will be interesting to hear him build it as we go movement by movement in rehearsal.
It is not too often that we musicians get to perform Mahler symphonies, particularly not in the suburbs. My colleagues are professional musicians, for whom Lexington Symphony a favorite gig. We’ll be at that first rehearsal prepared and ready to play.
From this Friday to next, we’ll put our disparate parts together and create that miracle of cohesion, the symphonic sound. We players humbly invite you to join us at the performance on November 10th - our Mahler 5 promises to be everything from big and bold to tender and radiant and might even unleash a drop or two of sweat... but no Sherpa required!
Tickets available online at http://www.lexingtonsymphony.org, by phone at 781-523-9009, or in person at Crafty Yankee, 1838 Mass. Ave. (cash/check only). $50, $40, $30, $20 (student). Cary Hall is wheelchair-accessible. Conductor's Talk with Music Director Jonathan McPhee, 7pm.
Special offer: “Lex3”: Nov. 10 Mahler/Feb. 16 Beethoven/April 13 Porgy and Bess, at a 15% discount. Call 781-523-9009 or visit www.lexingtonsymphony.org.