Sunday, April 17, 2011

On Hearing Mahler's Third Live in the Forum

What an awful night for a concert - between 3-4" of rain before it was over, lots of road closings, flooded streams and basements, not to mention struggling to get from parking your car to the dry haven of the Forum without looking like a drowned rat. Even the conductor, Stuart Malina, joked afterwards how he didn't even feel like driving out in this downpour!

And yet the audience braved the storm to sit through a performance of a long, involved symphony by Gustav Mahler which clocked in at about an hour and forty-five minutes with no intermission. Yes, there were those who left at the end of the third movement or who chose not to sit through the final slow movement - there was a woman in front of me who got up in a huff and left just before the concert started, upon realizing there would be no intermission!

But for the most part, the audience sat totally mesmerized during the performance of Gustav Mahler Symphony No. 3 - whether it was the long slow stretches of the off-stage trumpet solo (speaking of rapturous) or the finale's emotional, slowly unfolding hymn to God's love (usually about 25 minutes long, itself). By the final moments, you could sense the entire audience leaning forward, quietly attentive - and there was not a pin to be heard dropping the entire time.

At the end of the third movement, as the chorus and the soloist were added to the already crowded stage, the friend sitting with me looked at his watch and was surprised it was already 9:15. He said he'd figured it was probably 8:45, at least...

For once in my life, I was never conscious of aches or pains induced from prolonged sitting in those uncomfortable Forum seats, even at the end of the concert.

At the end, the audience was quick to rise and cheer with prolonged ovations for the orchestra and its conductor, for individual performers (like principal trombonist Brent Philips, principal trumpet Phil Snedecor, the entire horn section and concertmaster Odin Rathnam), for mezzo soloist Layna Chianakas, for the Susquehanna Children's Chorale and the women of the Messiah College Concert Choir and their directors, Linda Tedford and Judith Shepler - and presumably for Gustav Mahler's amazing composition, as well.

It was not, unfortunately, selling well, as far as the box office was concerned, a major issue for the orchestra's income, especially given the budget required by such a large orchestra. Granted, at-the-door sales were likely dampened by one of those Old Testament Weather Patterns that hit the area again that day, but those who braved the elements to hear the performance were apparently excited to have been there.

Getting them -- especially people new to Mahler -- in the door is the problem. Some people I'd talked to who balked at the idea of sitting through such a long piece may not realize they would sit through something just as long if they went to a movie theater, with or without a chance to visit a restroom once it started.

And I can't imagine when the last time was I went to a movie that was as good as hearing Mahler's Third live!

Fortunately, I get to hear it again today at 3:00, since I'm giving the pre-concert talk an hour earlier.

You can read David Dunkle's Patriot-News review of last night's performance, here.

I've posted my pre-concert talk on-line at my other blog, Thoughts on a Train.

- Dick Strawser

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