This weekend the SLSO is playing Gustav Mahler’s Symphony no. 2. I’ll be attending. I wish I were playing.
I don’t remember the first time I heard Mahler 2, but I do remember the first time I played it. It was at Brevard Music Center, summer of ‘96. We played the symphony for the final summer concert. I tend to get emotional when playing. I believe I cried throughout much of the last movement. I was hooked.
Let me clarify. I, like most musicians, am an emotion junkie. I love music for that reason. The ups, the downs, these are all great. I love a great big musical climax (no giggles). This is why I love Mahler. Mahler is filled with emotions. Most of those emotions are dark…but after the sadness, why!, the brightness, the happiness, is tenfold. Without the downs, we can’t appreciate the ups. This is true for life, this is true for music.
I have learned over the years that I experience emotions more strongly than some people. I have learned to block them to an extent, because otherwise I just might turn into a blubbering mass. But I still love reading books that make me cry, watching movies that make me cry, and listening to music that makes me cry.
The next time (to my recollection) that Mahler 2 made an appearance in my life was spring of my junior year of college. My school orchestra was performing the piece in Severance Hall, home of the Cleveland Orchestra. Not long before this, the Cleveland Orchestra performed Mahler 2. Or did they play it at Blossom? You know, my recollections are blurry. I remember it was spring, because spring in Cleveland is a magical time after six to seven months of snow—the blooming, the warmth, the storms, the time spent outside. I lived in a 4th floor walk-up with a fantastic balcony.
I wasn’t originally placed in the Mahler orchestra though. I was placed as concertmaster of the concurrent opera orchestra, for Dido and Aeneas. This was supposed to be an honor, said our orchestral director. Well, thank you, but I really wanted to play Mahler 2. I made my case. I stood my ground. I stood tall, as I used to do so easily in those days…and he relented. Yes. I would be allowed to play in both. Last chair second violin of course, but also concertmaster of the opera. Luckily it was a short opera (1 hour).
My friend was principal oboe, if I recall. And again, who knows, my recollections could be wrong, but this is my story. This is my blog! I attended the Severance Hall performance with the Cleveland Orchestra. The conductor forgot the 4th movement. He conducted a giant downbeat…for the giant last movement, and the orchestra started..the soft opening of the 4th movement. He shushed them and brought them to a halt. IN the concert. He started again. The orchestra sounded the same both times.
I was sitting with my roommate and good friend. This was before we had a bit of a falling out, as was prone to happen to me in those days. I suppose my fault, in retrospect, though at the time I didn’t think so. It was probably always my fault. I was hard on roommates in many ways.
I had an ongoing joke with the concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra at that time (who would ultimately be my teacher). He had seen me leave concerts at intermission many times. I would usher, see the first half, but often felt I had too much work to do to stay for the whole thing. In Mahler 2, there is a long pause after the first movement. He looked at me in the fourth or fifth row, and surreptitiously motioned with his bow that I should leave. I was flabbergasted that he even noticed I was there!
But back to my concert. I don’t remember much. I just remember we had a fantastic time playing Mahler 2 in Severance Hall. It was my first performance there. I so wanted to be a member of the Cleveland Orchestra and play there every week. Spring in Cleveland made everyone feel alive! I was so confident, so full of hope, so self-assured that everything would go my way and that I could do as I pleased. So young.
I think the next time I played Mahler 2 was with the Youngstown Symphony. That was an awful gig that I played for a couple of years. The conductor took an intermission after the first movement rather than the five minute break Mahler asked for. The concerts always lasted until 10:00 there. This was no exception.
Next was with the Canton Symphony, and then with the Akron Symphony. I have played Mahler 2 so many times! But still, that performance in Severance Hall was most magical. And my first one as well, at Brevard. One constant is that there is a place in the last movement that I always cry.
Will I cry listening to it this weekend as well? I have been pushing the envelope recently emotion-wise, as this is an incredibly stressful time in my life (for Chris and I), and I’ve been blasting the soundtrack to Return of the King in my car when I drive…just to feel the ups and downs, and to avoid the news.
I’m going to say yes, yes, I will cry. I hope no one near me ruins the moment for me by slowing opening a candy or choking on their own spittle. I want to feel the darkness of the symphony, and I want to feel the light. I will feel angry that I am an observer rather than a participant as well, and I will embrace that.
It’s springtime here in St. Louis after a long winter, and spring is a magical time.