Emerging on the other side

Whoops, seem to have let the old blog slide in the intensity of the last couple of rehearsals, and the concerts themselves. I don’t think a play-by-play is called for here, just a summary, to bring things to a close.

The Monday rehearsal, before which I paused writing, got us through a run of about 65% of the symphony (first four movements), which was good. Many little spots remained in need of fixing, which we did.

Wednesday we attended to the rest of the work, which consisted mostly of the great finale. We also added the vocal element for the first time– Barbara Rearick, the sopranos and altos of the Princeton Glee Club, and the American Boychoir, all for the fourth and fifth movements. I had allotted 30 minutes for this 14 minutes of music, and it turned out we did not need it all. The pegs slipped into the proper holes like clockwork, even with the choirs in the balcony. The vocalists brought a high level of preparation, but that was no surprise.

Dress rehearsal, Thursday night. First time through the whole thing, all 100 minutes of it, without stopping. I always try to get a no-stop run  before the dress rehearsal, as that in and of itself is an adjustment– especially when it’s this long. Then the dress rehearsal can be devoted to polishing. But because we could not rehearse the previous Sunday (Easter) we were deprived of that. So it was a tough dress, many simultaneous adjustments needing to be made. The next day I sent a fairly lengthy email to the orchestra with little fixes that we did not have time to do, and with what I hoped was good advice on transitioning between rehearsal and performance.

Again unsurprisingly, Princeton students more than rose to the occasion when the audience showed up– they dominated it with intensity and concentration. It was a dream of a performance, to a good house Friday and a great one Saturday. The recognition of the seniors was, as always, joyous and sad, then off we went. It’s amazing how often this happens– the fact that one is playing for people other than oneself  brings one miles closer to the spirit of the music itself. Mahler came alive. Hey, he was there. His love wrapped its arms around us all.

At the point I’ll just share the email I wrote to the orchestra Sunday morning, as anything else I say on the matter of the Princeton University Orchestra’s Mahler 3 performances would be just a rehash of that.

Dear PUO,

 There’s always a little nervous laughter and discomfort when the topic of Love is mentioned before a large group. I guess that’s because we all know that it is truly the most important thread in our lives, beyond pure survival, even though it may be hard to say that out loud.
But there was no such discomfort last night, when it was Mahler doing the talking, with us as his transmitters. My daughter (who also played Mahler 3 in college) said simply “waterworks” drawing her fingers down her cheeks. And, she reported, many around her were watery as well. Of course, Mahler’s love would have fallen flat, had it not been launched by yours. Several times I got the comment that, as long as it was, it did not seem long. The only way that happens is for those onstage to be fully committed, which always draws the audience into their commitment.
That was in the audience. On the stage…. we all spent time face to face, in utter intimacy, with one of the greatest souls of music. (Make that art.) There is no greater feeling for a musician, in my opinion. No composer can induce such a feeling of radiant ecstasy as Mahler. And I think maybe no other work of his does that quite like this one. We have now lived that. How did we get so lucky?
It was great, committed playing, to the core of every last moment. So many thank-yous– woodwinds, such a wonderful wildness, switching instantly to delicacy when it was time; brass, authority and brilliance, and at the ultimate moment, angelic singing; strings, feathery, delicious textures of petals, then deep, comforting richness; percussion, both crisp snap in the marches and the last tolling strokes, signaling eternity; and harps (whom I absentmindedly and unpardonably did not have stand, but whose pardon I humbly ask), delicate starlit drops, roars of sound, and those deep, deep (Tief!) A octaves, real Mahler tone.
We were also so lucky to be able to assemble, at a very busy time of year, three magnificent assisting artists- the angelic treble voices of the PU Glee Club, who took this on after their own huge concert the previous weekend, the magnificent American Boychoir, who squeezed us in just prior to a tour, and finally to my colleague and dear friend Barbara Rearick, mentor now to many generations of Princeton students, and whose voice is, to me, synonymous with Mahler’s music.
And what an effort by all on getting the word out, the team being energetically headed by Dana and Alina! I’m also quite positive that Lydia’s great video, that she got placed on the Princeton website, had a lot to do with it, as did our new website which is primarily Ben’s work. These things mark us as a more serious and professional organization. Thanks must also be tendered to Catherine Ugolini, our Director of Marketing and Outreach, who has developed great relations with the local press and placed two headliner stories about us. I think that all those efforts came together brilliantly, and that the huge success of this weekend gives PUO a stronger platform on which to keep building. We are no longer quite such a well-kept secret! At this point in my years here it’s silly for me to say that any one weekend was The Top One. But there was never a greater PUO weekend than the one we just had. 
Planets, Teatro di Strada, New World, Poppea, Concerti, Phaedra, Prague, and now Mahler. I am proud of, and grateful to you all, beyond words.


This will close this stretch of blog, and it may be until next Fall before I start another, when the topic will be Building an Orchestra from Scratch. (not really scratch, as 75% of the students are returning). Thanks for reading and sharing this journey with me. I’ve greatly enjoyed putting this experience into words, and I hope if you read it and came to hear us play, that the connection between the two was clear.


Michael Pratt