Two rehearsals, and OMG moments

Two long and taxing rehearsals on April 13 and 14 were big steps. Sunday was detail work, including placing the heavenly trumpet solo for the 3rd movement in the right spot. Nicolas Crowell will be….. nope, not giving it away, you have to come hear! But it will be beautiful. The whole fourth movement is progressing well, and the hard work done with the string sectionals is paying off. The treacherous 16th note pianissimo passages are gelling, with the right sound and good intonation. I’ve repeated a couple things I heard Eric Wyrick tell the first violins for everyone, about how the softer things get, the more intense the concentration must be. Inside you’re counting and screaming “ONE AND TWO AND” at the top of your inner voice, but the sound you make is of the utmost delicacy. The style is starting to sink in, so the feeling of being in a Brothers Grimm tale for Mahler’s forest is starting to emerge. Filled with strange creatures, grinning weirdly from the shadows! This is such astoundingly picturesque music.

We worked through the seemingly simply 4th movement, the beautiful mezzo solo. It’s very, very tricky, with consecutive measures beat very differently. We’ll need to work it once more before Barbara Rearick comes. This movement doesn’t float yet.

Monday was the first run-through of the massive opening movement, all 35 minutes of it. It’s something that the orchestra and the conductor both need to get under their belts well before the dress rehearsal. It just keeps coming at you and at you, through so many wild emotional states, so many lightning transitions, and nothing ever happens the same way twice. But if you do not almost lose your mind in excitement at the blazing end, well, you’re not going to get excited about anything.  And… we did it. Some details slipped, but it held together well, and is becoming more confident and convincing.

And then, the Finale. “Was mir die Liebe erzählt”, “What Love Tells Me” was Mahler’s original title of the movement. One passage in some liner notes I remember called this music “searingly beautiful”. I said a few words (hopefully appropriate) about the title and its implications, and then we played it without stopping. We had not done as much detail work on it, so I talked more than usual as we played, calling out, as I conducted, reminders: “subito piano”, “now swell”, little details that have to be remembered in the grand sweep. In an earlier post I wrote about the process of finding Mahler’s love, and meeting it with yours as you play. I’m now hearing that wonderful union blossom under my ear. Maybe what I said had a little to do with it, but it was far more likely just the natural process of repeated exposure to music of such power, and that communicates with such urgency. Resistance is futile.

Let me quote Alex Ross again. In his review of the Mahler-fest in New York a few seasons back, he said “(Mahler) is the supreme magician of orchestral spectacle, the master of the oh-my-God moment. Neuroscientists have analyzed the phenomenon of the “musical chill”—the ambiguous tremor of otherness that runs through the body when, for whatever reason, a particular sound overwhelms the reasoning mind.” He goes on to say that Mahler’s music contains dozens of these, and lists a handful. The reasoning mind is just is too puny to absorb this. For me, there are extended stretches in this finale that are long OMG moments, and they just build in intensity toward the end.

Donald Mitchell observes that instrumental families seemed to represent certain things  for Mahler: woodwinds are animals, the natural world, strings are humanity, and brass. lead by the trumpet, divinity. The finale begins with the human voice of the strings playing a deeply felt prayer, the beginning of a search for final understanding. What follows are slowly rising waves of anxious seeking, falls into despair, gathering again, seeking again. At the end, the music from the beginning is taken now by a solemn brass chorale that answers the original prayer in a tone of sublime sweetness. The last slow build arrives at a D major chord underlined by two pairs of timpani in a final slow march- D-A-D-A, pounding forward, stopping, starting again, seemingly stopped finally, then gathering for one more peal. These final notes, and the true last chord. OMG. Charles Rosen wrote that the end of the Sanctus in Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, with its unending waves of ascending scales starting from the bottom of the orchestra, is Beethoven’s audible image of eternity. For me, this last 50 seconds of Mahler’s Third Symphony is his similar image of a joyous Eternal. “Not sharply cut off” he instructs regarding the last chord, as if the sound should somehow continue past the end of the music, and carry us out of the hall into the night.

We touched on the second movement before we stopped, and it too has started to gell, with the complicated violin tracery in the last section now dropping into place naturally.  You can almost smell the mountain air and floral fragrance in this music.

Well, I seem to have drifted away in this one from the topic of preparation, into speaking about the music. Afraid it couldn’t be helped, this is what happens to hardcore Mahlerites. When you’re working in his music, he becomes a living presence for you, someone you have come to love– and you can’t shut up about him. I can’t promise it won’t happen again!