Thursday, October 15, 2009

after Mahler. . .

What does one take away from four performances of Mahler's Symphony no. 9?

Some initial observations:

The audience on Thursday night was one of the most rapt, attentive audiences that I have encountered in over thirty years of performing. On stage, we could hear a pin drop, from beginning to end. This is rare, for in a large crowd, there is inevitably one poor soul who has brought with him or her a ticklish throat, or a partner who'd rather be home watching the Red Sox lose to the Angels, or taking a nice nap (which comes on anyway, given the ideal conditions for such: a cozy chair in a dark concert hall.)

But on Thursday, October 8, the Hartford Symphony was treated to an audience that held its collective breath for ninety minutes - - - I don't remember anyone coughing, not even in between the movements!

Thursday night was our first complete run through of the symphony. Surprised? Well, there are decisions a conductor must make with the limited time at hand, and by Wednesday night's dress rehearsal, we had accomplished a great deal on the first three movements, but there was still work to be done on the final Adagio. I did this on purpose, knowing that the Adagio was technically the easiest, but emotionally the most taxing. When you run a marathon (as our assistant principal violist, Sharon Dennison did on Saturday morning, and who did not look any worse for wear at that evening's performance), you must pace yourself.

As the Adagio runs nearly thirty minutes, I did not want to run the risk of playing the symphony in order and possibly run out of time at the end, so I began the dress rehearsal with the final movement, then proceeded through the other three movements before we called it a night.

So Thursday night's concert was the first real play-through of the entire work, in movement order. That's why we often call the first of several performances a 'dress rehearsal' for the public. In the opening movement, we were a little tight, a bit on edge. After that we were fine. And the audience, in the closing four and a half minutes of the symphony, was just unbelievable. After the violas uttered the final four notes, I could have held the silence forever, and no one would have minded.

3 comments:

Louise Banks said...

Dear Mr. Cummings and Symphony Members -

I attended the October 9th performance of Mahler's Ninth -

You all are to be highly commended for a superb presentation!!!!! Your interpretation of this piece of music helped lead my personal emotions into a wide variety of places - - and I thank you for enhancing my experience that night!!

I so wish that I could attend each of your performances - for I would absolutely love to be front and center cheering each of you on!! Once I get to your concert hall,I could just sit and listen to you all night long! Can hardly wait till my next chance to be at one of your concerts!!

Thankyou again for superb professional gift of music!!!

With gratitude and total enjoyment!!!!!!

Louise Banks
New Milford, Connecticut

Sarah said...

Hello Maestro,

How wonderful to be able to re-hear the HSO's stunning performance of Mahler's 9th, which was broadcast on WNPR on 11/8. Riveting, enthralling, devastating.

I will never forget being in the audience that night...it has become one of my life's Important Musical Experiences...thank you.

Sarah

David Brown said...

I have only just discovered this blog and the facility to leave comments. I have heard live performances of Mahler 9 by several other conductors including Simon Rattle and Claudio Abbado, as well as numerous recordings from the 1938 Bruno Walter onwards. Your performance with the HSO can hold its own alongside any of them, even the (to me) just about perfect first recording by Haitink with the Concertgebouw, and the spellbinding account by Abbado and the Berlin Philharmonic that I heard in the London Proms in 1994. Congratulations - and I echo your commendation of the audience, who were impeccably quiet in the Sunday afternoon performance. I for one am extremely sorry that you are leaving Hartford - you will be a hard act to follow.