Thursday, October 1, 2009

Mahler's Ninth (part 2)

In my first post earlier today, I mentioned how much this symphony has taken out of me. When the Hartford Symphony was still knee deep in Beethoven symphonies this past spring, my head was already well inside the Mahler symphony, and I've barely come up for air since. I will put it to you this way -- when I had heard that Claudio Abbado and Simon Rattle (both world-class conductors and wonderful interpreters of Mahler) each took six months off to study this piece, that got my attention. And so May-September (five months, for those of you counting), it's been Mahler, Mahler, Mahler.

But I did something that Abbado and Rattle did not do, something few conductors do anymore, rather old-fashioned, really.

In the early part of the 20th century, many European conductors would conduct from their own materials, meaning the orchestral musicians would play from parts that were corrected, marked and otherwise carefully prepared by the conductor and/or his assistant. (Today, most conductors study their own score and don't know what the players have in front of them until they arrive at the first rehearsal; some will send a few bowings and markings in advance for the staff librarian to put into the individual parts.)

Ron Krentzman is the brilliant and fastidious librarian for the Hartford Symphony; he and his assistant, Joy Glassman, copied bowings from string masters into all of the string parts. Otherwise, every marking in the part was made by me over the summer. Indeed, it took me all summer just to get through all of the woodwind, brass, harp and percussion parts. (30+ parts, each with 85 minutes of music.) Hundreds of hours of fussy work, checking every note of every part against that of the score.

But at last night's rehearsal, our first together, it went largely without incident. Time well spent. And, to be sure, all of my time with the individual parts gave me time to study specific individual music, which goes against the grain of what is so easy to do when one studies a score -- which is more general in character.

And every morning I wake up with Mahler in my head. Who needs an iPod when you're already hard wired?

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