Friday, January 30, 2009

Cello scrotum (yes you read that right)

Cello scrotum. It doesn't exist! Darn it, I was hoping to fool my doctor and insurance carriers about that.....kidding people, kidding. (I'm a woman anyway, so I can't even get that fake itch, or whatever it is). Read here for a full explanation of this imaginary ailment. (and then feel free to giggle and cackle like a 12 year old boy about it, like I did.)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Chicago--have I offended you in some way??? (beware, this blog gets a bit gross/graphic)

What's with my weekday trips to Chicago? Why do they always end up horribly? You might have read about my last weekday trip there to hear Mahler 2. It was ruined by immature brats making out in front of me, and a spectacular argument with my sister, and not getting any sleep the next day.

Well, earlier this week I made a trip up to Chicago, on Monday evening. My friend Chris graciously gave me his 4 tickets to the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, for their performance of Mahler 9 under Esa-Pekka Salonen. I was a little apprehensive about this, because I kind of hold to the idea that people not long out of college should not play Mahler--it takes more maturity than that. (no offense to the Civic players---they are all fine musicians.) But you get my drift, right? And last time I saw E-Pek in Chicago, I hated what he did with the Rite of Spring. Hated every second of it. But it was Mahler, it was close by, and the tickets were free.

A few friends joined me, two graduates of the IU Jacobs School of Music, and one currently a junior in the SoM. It was a highly enjoyable trip up there, with much laughing, goofing off, etc etc. Probably the only downside to the trip were the tolls, but that's life.

I'm not going to go in to it much, because it's not worth my time. I know the papers glowed about the show, but I hated every second of it, as did my friends. Worst Mahler concert I've ever been to in my life, and I don't care that everyone else loves E-Pek and the papers just adored this performance---it was a pure waste of my time. So there, those are my feelings. Yes, I realize you may disagree, and bless you for it. (if you are going to comment, at least have the guts to write your real name though, ok? None of this "anonymous" crap anymore people, ok?)

So afterwards, we're all talking about what a crap concert it was, and we went off in search of food, and delicious food we found! We had a lovely late night dinner, and then walked back to the car to make the drive home.

I was tired, but wanted to drive, simply because I find driving to and from Chicago to be exhilarating, and I ended up driving for about an hour or so. I then asked someone else to drive, and I climbed in to the back seat of my little car, and hoped to catch a little sleep. Silly me though--I forgot that I tend to get carsick.

After about 30 minutes to an hour later, I very abruptly sat up and announced to my friends that I was going to vomit. "Really? Are you serious?" were their responses. "Yes, serious". Our very able driver pulled over to the side of the road (which was now getting snowy) and I sort of began to cry a bit about needing to get out of the car, and out I got, walked around to the back of my car, fell in to the snowy grass, and then lost my dinner. Not once, not twice, but THREE times. I remember after the second time, one friend encouraging me to get it all out, because I'd feel better, but also because we need to get off the side of the road in this kind of weather. I heeded that advice promptly, I'd like to say.

I got back in the car, and felt like a million bucks! I was so happy I got that all out of me, and vowed to never sit in the back of a car with a full belly ever again. We pulled in to a gas station not long after, and I kinda cleaned up a bit, and then decided I'd drive the rest of the way home.

I climbed in to bed around 5am, happy that my friends took such wonderful care of me, and happy to have spent time with them. I wasn't so thrilled to have to wake up in a few hours, but oh well.

I woke up at 7:30, and announced, silently to my bedroom, that I needed to vomit. I got to the bathroom, and well...you know the rest. This time though, it was accompanied by a fever of 101, chills, body aches, and my skin hurt everywhere. I was shaking when I got back to bed, and called a few people, crying about feeling awful. I made an appointment with the doctor, and found out I had the stomach flu. I got home a little after noon, and promptly feel asleep afterwards, until 7pm. (!) I then went back to sleep after that, and woke up at 5am this morning, drenched in sweat. (my fever broke). So, I'm glad that went quickly. Most all my symptoms are gone now, with the exception of me being ridiculously tired, and having no energy. I'm now dealing with a craving for key lime pie, and that is encouraging.

What's the moral of this story? Don't sit in the back of a car after eating? No. Simply, that I will never attend a weekday concert in Chicago, ever again. I don't care who is playing, who is conducting, or what is being played. I will never, ever come to Chicago on a weekday again.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Monday, January 19, 2009

Mahler Mondays: Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra plays Mahler 1

Saturday January 17th marked my fourth Mahler concert in 7 days---have YOU ever been so lucky? I was (of course) rather excited, yet rather nervous as well. I was worried about a bad performance ruining my weekend---not that I automatically thought the Cincy Symph would be bad--by no means. But you never know, ya know? You are never guaranteed a good orchestra concert, no matter what.

Before they played Mahler, they played a U.S. premiere by Erkki-Sven Tuur, The Path and the Traces. This string work started out with long tones and harmonic glissandos which gave things an immediate eerie, yet beautiful quality. I had the impression that this is the sound of the cosmos. If I could assign music to the universe, stars, comets, galaxies forming, etc, this is the music I would choose. Whether he meant it that way, or whether he'd like my assessment of that or not....who knows. I enjoyed the work, and wish I could hear it again. I'm sure there is much I missed out on.

I didn't miss out on anything for the second piece though, Tchaikovsky's 2nd piano concerto. Dennis Matsuev was the genius at the keys, and in the words of my friend, "He owned that piece". Matsuev is like a body builder of pianists who also excels at ballet. The man can crush a piano I'm sure, with his power, presence, and intensity, yet he has no issue being delicate and graceful at the keys either. His playing made me wish that the 2nd piano concerto was more popular than the first. It's a fun little work that seems to divert from the average concerto, and I enjoyed that.

Mahler's 1st symphony rightly closed out the program, and during intermission I was chewing my lip in anticipation. I had gotten out of my seat just to walk around and get some of my nerves out.

I know I've babbled on about it before, but Mahler 1 holds an extra special place in my heart. (ugh, how cheesy/corny sounding). But seriously, it does. It was my first ever real orchestral piece to play, and it sort of imprinted itself on me. I was immediately astonished by this work when I first heard it, with all those crazy A's in the beginning. What genius starts a symphony that way? The genius known as Gustav Mahler, that's who! Since that time, at age 14, I have adored the music of Mahler, and particularly the 1st symphony (and 6th as well). In nearly 16 years, I have never grown tired of that work, and it never ceases to thrill me and get my stomach in a knot. I didn't mean to get so worked up Saturday night, but I simply couldn't help it. An orchestra was about to attempt to play MY piece, MY symphony---that's how I look at the 1st symphony. I didn't write it, and I don't own the original score or anything like that, but in a cocky, arrogant, conceited, yet sweet way, I feel that I love that work more than anyone else on earth does. Therefore, it is mine.

I'll get the negatives of this performance out of the way: muddiness between cellos and basses, couldn't hear the violas a single bit (but is that really a bad thing? Ha! Oversensitive violists are probably having a fit right now---chill out, would you?), and there was some uneasiness in the first movement, as though things had the potential to fall apart, although they didn't. A few flubs in the brass on occasion, but nothing absolutely scandalous.

The positives? Ah, it would be a huge blog if I listed them all! Where to start, where to start....Jarvi, being the kick ass conductor that he is, really injected a sense of joy, spring time, and liveliness in to the first movement. It was slightly on the brisk side, but was all the more wonderful for it. Between bird calls, the joyful theme from the cellos and just about everything else, the first movement was a pure delight.

The same thing can be said about the second movement as well, actually. The cellos and basses dug deep for a beautiful sound in the intro, starting off a bit slower, and speeding up. I found myself sitting with my eyes closed, with another one of my dumb grins on my face, and in my mind, life was pretty much near perfect.

I couldn't believe my luck so far---here I was, in the middle of my 4th Mahler concert in 7 days (have I said that enough times on my blog?), and it was going superbly! What would happen if something went wrong? What if during the bass solo of the 3rd movement, Owen Lee's bass disintegrated or something? Seriously, I was loving the joy I had, but began to question my luck, and every stupid, weird, ridiculous possible thing that could ruin the evening came to mind. A bass disintegrating! How crazy of me!! These are the dumb things I think of though---sorry, can't really help it.

Did that happen? Nope. No sirree, sure didn't. What DID happen was a flawless bass solo, and probably the BEST third movement I've heard, live or on CD. Was it absolutely perfect, notewise? No, but Jarvi took that movement to where it needed to go, to where every other conductor it seems, is too afraid to take it. The crazy klezmer band, the trope, irony, sarcasm, exaggeration, parody---all of it was taken as far as it could possibly go, and Jarvi made no apologies for it. At times I nearly laughed with how wonderfully stretched out (and therefore intensified) things were. I said to myself, after the movement morphed in to the 4th movement, "when I stand up and applaud, I'll be going wild for lots of reasons, but especially for the 3rd movement."

As you know, or don't, the 4th movement begins with a bang. Not quite a hammer blow bang, but it wakes you up nonetheless. Things in this movement were a bit too fast for me, but I think that's my only complaint. The work is written so that it ends triumphantly, but it seemed even more so with Jarvi at the helm.

After the concert I went to the green room (all orchestras should do this by the way: let the audience go backstage to talk to the artists) and tried to tell the Maestro all of this. No doubt I probably just fumbled through saying "great job!" I meant to tell him that I wish the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra would record Mahler 1---seriously, I'd buy that the minute it came out, and a few extra copies for my friends as well. It was so obvious how well the CSO's conductor knows and loves this work, and we need more people like that recording Mahler.

After all that and a little mingling with people backstage, I breathed a sigh of relief. My week of Mahler ended unbelievably well. Like, ridiculously well---so well that I'm now sinking in to a post-Mahler depression. Woe is me!

So what's up next on the calendar? I'm heading to the Windy City this coming weekend for some E-Pek, and Debussy. Should be good stuff. He's also conducting the Civic Orchestra of Chicago a week from today, doing Mahler 9 so I'll of course be there for that. After that....uuuh, I'll have to check my schedule, as my brain doesn't go that far ahead--at least not in specifics. I do know there are a few more Mahler's this season, so there is always something to look forward to!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Hear hear!

While I was on vacation, I missed out on my usual blogs that I check daily, via Bloglines. I obviously missed quite a lot of good material! I've been trying to catch up slowly but surely, and found this absolute gem, from the Horndog Blog.

Of course when that whole Mahler 2/Gilbert Kaplan/NY Phil/David Finlayson thing broke out, everyone had their own opinion. People commented on his blog with strong convictions, all equally believing in the truth of their statements. I read all those comments, and mostly rolled my eyes. I definitely rolled my eyes when I read that blog, and afterwards chuckled, thinking Gilbert Kaplan has done more for Mahler and getting people to appreciate and love him, than David Finlayson could do in 3 lifetimes. I thought that, and a great many other things too. One being how lucky he is that he has tenure--he can say what he wants, and not get fired. (although I hope and pray that management spoke to him, and advised him to keep his trap shut next time). He doesn't have to worry about things like getting fired for saying bad things about the dude in charge, oh, like, 95% of the working world does.

Like he does on many other topics, the Horndog Blog has great things to say, and his post about that whole drama above just about made my day, and possibly even week. I hope after you are done here, you go and check his site out. It's certainly worth it!

Dress code

We women have it lucky in orchestras---as long as we wear all black, we're safe. Some women wear pant suits, others wear long black skirts and a top, and then there's everything between that.

Poor men are stuck wearing tuxedos, which look absolutely dashing if you ask me, but every man I've ever spoken to has said that they are awful to play in. Constricting, uncomfortable, hot--you name it. I've always felt sorry for them.

When I was at a concert a while ago, a lady behind me was talking about something I've thought about, but never spoken of. She said something to the effect of "Look at the men, required to wear tuxes. But the women have no real dress code at all, as long as they wear all black. Yet none of them look as nice as the men do." It was something approximate to that.

"How true!" I thought to myself. I then went on to think about all the concerts I've been to, and if I've ever noticed the women looking as good as the men, and the answer is no. Yes, there are some women who look terrific, yet the women in an orchestra often look nowhere near as good as the men do. In fact, I've been to concerts where the women look like downright slobs. Some look like they are wearing some cheapo outfit, like just plain cotton pants and a plain cotton long sleeve shirt, and that's their orchestra outfit. Then across the stage there's a woman in a beautiful long black dress who look stunning. I hate the inconsistencies in female dress codes in orchestras. I feel it is extremely unfair actually. The men are held to a higher standard of dress, and the women seem completely fine about that!

Knowing that men have to wear tuxes, I feel that when I am on stage, I too should look as good as they do. I wear a very long skirt which has a few floaty layers, and it is, if I may say so myself, absolutely beautiful. My top is a 3/4 length shirt that is high quality, and goes very well with the dress. When I wear this combination, I feel very much on par with the men, as far as dress goes.

I wish more women had that attitude when getting ready for concerts. In fact, I wish that women had stricter guidelines when it came to concert dress---perhaps even a mandatory dress, just like the men are mandated to wear tuxes. I don't think I should look over to the cello section and see a woman in a beautiful, feminine, and professional dress while a chick in the first violin section looks like a slob, literally, with her cheap outfit and messy hair in a hair claw.

In high school, we all wore the same dress for concerts. Because the budget was small, we of course didn't get the most beautiful gowns, but we all at least looked uniform. Why isn't it this way in professional orchestras? I see nothing wrong with forcing all the women of an orchestra to wear a specific dress. If someone thinks there is something wrong with that, but not wrong with a man being forced to wear a tux, then they are simply a hypocrit.

The reason this hasn't happened though is because no one wants to anger women these days (ooh I know I might be stepping on toes or offending right now, but I'm happy to do that when it comes to this topic). Well, that at least, is my theory. I can imagine management not wanting to deal with a bunch of bitchy, angry women who are forced to wear a dress that makes them look attractive and feminine, that holds them to the same standard as the men.

I love to look at musicians during concerts. I love to see bows all going in the same direction, I enjoy looking at their faces that are often deep in concentration or wonderfully absorbed in elation. I get great satisfaction of looking at an ensemble of close to 100 people, all going after the same goal. What I hate is seeing half the orchestra looking spiffy, and the other half looking messy. (In case you missed it, the men look spiffy, and the women look messy.)

Surely I'm not the only one who feels this way, right?? I can't be! I can't be the only person who enjoys seeing orchestra members look their best. I'm not the only one who thinks women should be held to the same standard as men, am I?

So, to the women in orchestras: quit dressing like it doesn't matter. Just finding two pieces that are black doesn't cut it honey. And going out without a stitch of makeup on and your hair up in a sloppy bun doesn't cut it either. Take some pride in how you look, and try to look attractive. Attempt a show at femininity. Do your best to look as good as the men do---there are some of us who are watching you! (and we don't like what we see!)

Friday, January 16, 2009

Cincinnati on the radio

I'm looking forward to seeing the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra play Mahler 1 tomorrow evening--it'll also be my fourth Mahler concert in 7 days. AWESOME.

For those of you who want to hear Cincy play some Mahler, why don't you head here? The program, wonderfully put together by Paavo Jarvi, is a Mahler delight, to say the least. I was at the morning concert of that program, which seemed kind of dry to me, but this recording, whichever night it was, sounds anything but.

Enjoy!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

DUDAMEL ROCKS MY WORLD

I was up bright and early to head to Lincoln Center with Robert for the NY Phil's rehearsal of Mahler 5, with Dudamel at the helm. I was ever so thankful that Robert donated $$$ to the NYPhil, or else we wouldn't have gotten rehearsal tickets. So, we arrived, drank free coffee, ate cake, and sat our butts in the seats, ready for some Dudamania.

The man, simply, is a genius. It is as if the orchestra is tied to his hands, and he literally leads them while they happily follow as perfectly as an orchestra can follow a conductor. Dudamel's wild gestures pulled every ounce of energy and effort out of the musicians---no small feat for a conductor who is only 27 years old.

What's funny is that so many 27 year old dudes are cocky and full of themselves, yet Dudamel is none of these things. He is humble as can be, even to the point that he was very hesitant to bow by himself. Instead he kind of joined the orchestra, and bowed with them. In the rehearsal that morning, the audience went bonkers after a particular movement, and he immediately had the orchestra stand up and acknowledge the applause, rather than just bow himself. That, among many other reasons, is why I respect him so much.

Watching him in rehearsal was a treat---even more so than in the concert. Although I couldn't hear him that well, it was nice to kind of get the gist of how he works with an orchestra. What was just as cool was hearing his instructions to the orchestra, and then hearing them put them in to action---they instantly obeyed him, each time.

The concert was the Wednesday rush hour concert, and just Mahler 5 was on the program. I thought I had bought a tier one center seat, but apparently not. (am I an idiot? It's a possibility). I unknowingly bought a SIDE seat, which royally sucked like nothing else. It was awful! The genius (sarcastic) who designed the hall made the seats face straight forward---to the other side of the hall, so I had to sit all weird and sideways to see the orchestra. I'm sure the people behind me had to lean extra far to see the orchestra. Then the bar around the box obscured the view of the orchestra as well, particularly the bass section. (grrrr). I looked over to my left, and fellow Mahler fanatic Robert had a great seat, and check this out---a seat next to him was empty! I was so tempted to crawl over and sit there, but I wouldn't have been able to do that without someone seeing my undies, and not to mention I couldn't do it in my heels, PLUS I would have looked unlady-like, and I'm sure some grump from the NYPhil administration/usher dept/whatever (because there are quite a few there) would have thrown a fit. So, I stayed put, and sulked slightly.

The sulking ended though, upon the start of the concert. I'm not going to give you a run down of the whole concert, because you already know how it went---it was utterly fantastic. I even cried during the Adagietto---something I pride myself on NOT doing normally. Everyone else seems to, but me, and for a while, I kinda liked that. I could not help but cry during it though, as it was so moving. I probably also cried out of happiness, since I had recieved an autograph facsimile of the score to the Adagietto, and was thinking of that a lot, since I spent the night before pouring over it for hours.

But back to Dudamel....we need more of him in the classical world. Such a young man with such passion is such a draw for people, and such an inspiration as well! We need more Dudamel's in the world not only to fill more seats, but to continue people's appreciation for and love of classical music. And then to have conductor's with his level of passion, commitment, and knowledge can do nothing but improve orchestras. (oh man I wish the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra could afford Dudamel. They need some inspiration like him.)

Afterwards, Robert and I were at Tavern on the Green, and we gave a toast to Mahler, and his kick ass compositions, and of course to Dudamel as well, for making our day so stinkin' cool.

I don't know how other concerts will be able to top that one--it has set the bar unbelievably high, to say the least. That's the only bad thing about going around and hearing amazing concerts--the bar keeps going up and up. The chance of being disappointed by other orchestras gets higher, and then all of a sudden, I'll find myself doing nothing but going to the best orchestras whenever I can afford the cash and time.

I'm spoiled, in other words!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The best gift EVER!

Yesterday marked my second day in New York City, and was yet again, a total blast. My friend Robert flew in to town (for Mahler as well!) and we spent our day ice skating, seeing the sights, gabbing about Mahler, taking the wrong subway--just once thank goodness, and overall, having a BLAST. Robert, if you remember, has guest reviewed some Mahler concerts on this blog, here and here.

We got to the end of our day, and he says to me, "I have something for you". I was, of course, intrigued. What could it be?

To say that I was taken aback is a vast understatement. The gift he got me was probably the best thing any human being has ever given me. He gave me this:


What is this, you ask? Is it a cover to a CD? No, this is infinitely better---the picture above is the cover of a box, and inside is absolutely astounding: a facsimile of the Autograph Fair Copy, Alma's copy, and a book of sorts that has all things Adagietto from the 5th symphony included, put together by the Kaplan Foundation. It's absolutely marvelous, and for a while after opening this, I could not speak. No kidding! Me, the most ridiculously verbose person with constant verbal diarrhea could not utter a single word. When I unwrapped this gift, I gasped, and found myself speechless. How kind of Robert! This Mahler excursion has been so wonderful for me, but this has taken the cake! This gift, this show of generosity, kindness, and friendship has been my favorite thing about New York City so far.(After that was gabbing with Robert about Mahler over pizza, which was then followed closely by ice skating at Rockefeller Center. I feel bad that I took him down with me once when I fell. Poor guy.)

Tomorrow morning we are headed to see Dudamel rehearse Mahler 5 with the New York Philharmonic, and later on in the evening is the performance. It is all the more special now, to see this rehearsal and show, now that I have this gift of the score.

I didn't think my vacation could get any better than it has been, but I was wrong!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Mahler for the Children of AIDS

This past Monday I attended a Mahler concert, but not just ANY Mahler concert. It was one of the most significant ones I've been to actually--probably THE most significant, because this just wasn't a part of an orchestral season--this concert was a fund raiser for global pediatric AIDS and the Prevention-of-Mother-To-Child Transmission of HIV.

This concert was presented by the Catholic Medical Mission Board, a group founded in 1928. They tend to focus their efforts (which are significant!) on the HIV/AIDS crisis, and particularly with children. Looking through a portion of their site, I was very impressed with the work they have done, and their integrity as a faith-based organization.

To top that off though, I was thrilled that Mahler's Third Symphony was to be the program for the evening. Not simply because I love Mahler, but because I could think of no other composer as apt for such an evening. Think about it--Mahler was constantly thinking about life, death, and suffering. He was grief-stricken upon the death of his 4 year old, Maria Anna, and in many ways was sensitive to all sorts of suffering on earth. No other composer would have fit the bill as well as he did, because he cared a great deal about the suffering there is on this earth.

Speaking about Mahler's work, Artistic Director and Conductor George Mathew said, "Mahler's magisterial Third Symphony speaks with a sternness and immediacy to the global community to act responsibly today. Tomorrow will be too late for too many". How true!

Before the show began, Maestro Mathew spoke a bit about this fundraiser, and it was clear to see his concern for this crisis. I read in the program, a letter of welcome he had written, and the last sentence was one (of many, I should say) that stuck out in my mind: "We must go forth, bearing witness through music for human love in our aching time and place". So not only was Mahler the best choice of music for this program, but George Mathew was obviously the best person to be leading this massive ensemble.

In addition to his passion for the needy and suffering on this earth, I was amazed at his leadership skills. This was no ordinary orchestra to put together, to say the least. This massive group of people combined the efforts of musicians from many different orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, the MET Orchestra, Brooklyn Philharmonic, Emerson String Quartet, and a host of other orchestras, and music schools as well. What all of that means is that they hadn't played together before as an ensemble--they came together just for this concert! Of all the pieces to put together under such circumstances, Mahler 3 is a monster to conquer. The sheer size of it, its length (his longest symphony, around 90-100 minutes)--all of that for the conductor to deal with, let alone over 100 musicians learning to play with each other for the first time. It is no small feat, to put this work together.

In addition to successfully leading this group, he delighted us Mahler fans with performing a work that is not played very often. Mahler 1, 2, and 5 are oft-performed works, but 3 is another matter entirely. Due to the size (which equals more musicians/money) and length (which equals more cost in rehearsals I'm sure, since most orchestras need an extra service or two for it!), we don't hear it often. For me to finally hear this work live was delightful for me.

It was also delightful for me to hear is well-played! While some of Mathew's tempos were a bit slower than I'd like, the orchestra came off very well. Principal trombonist Joseph Alessi, who is Principal of the NY Philharmonic was the main highlight for me. Never have I heard such astounding playing. I have always loved hearing a good trombonist, but have never ventured to call the sound of a trombone beautiful, but that's exactly what his playing was. I very much look forward to hearing him for Mahler 5 tomorrow.

In addition to him, I was especially impressed with mezzo-soprano Susanne Mentzer, who sung with a deep and rich tone; her voice was well paired for for Mahler's choice of texts in this work. Who would have thought just two simple words, "O Mensch!" could have such meaning and intensity woven in to them?

At the end of the concert, the audience, including myself, was on their feet. I hope it wasn't just for the effort of the musicians, and Maestro Mathew, and for a rarely played Mahler symphony though. I hope that people were clapping also for the fact that so many came together for such a good cause. I put my hands together for the orchestra and conductor, but I also was putting them together for the Catholic Medical Mission Board, and for their significant efforts, for their desire to go and help the most needy and vulnerable, for their desire to tackle HIV/AIDS, which seems almost too big to comprehend.

Such an evening of significance has been hard for me to wrap my head around, and more dificult than usual to write about. I have found myself wondering how potent music could be in stirring people to action, in various different ways. This concert was the first musical fundraiser I'd ever been to, to tackle a global epidemic---and I hope it will not be the last!

New York City - Day 1

It's come and gone--my first day in New York City! I'm here for Mahler, of course. (and good food, shopping, ice skating, museums, etc etc). This evening I heard Mahler 3 at Carnegie Hall, and there will be full post about that some time tomorrow. It was a great concert, in case you are wondering.

I am a huge fan of NYC. I really like that you can do your own thing here, and no one seems to be bothered by it. I like the busyness, I love public transportation, and I simply enjoy walking down the streets to see what there is.

As I was doing that this past evening, in search of pizza before the concert, I saw a sign for an apartment building.


I gasped---this is the apartment building of one of my favorite musicians, and I had no idea I was staying relatively near it. Now, I'm not a stalker, so please don't think that. In fact, this musician has even stated where anyone can find it, that he lives here. So, here's a question for you all---who is this musician? I don't really have a prize for whoever gets it right, but I will be impressed. (And to the musician who lives here---I swear, I'm not stalking you or anything like that. I was just tickled that I passed your apartment building, since I've read about it so many times.)

Well, while Day 2 doesn't have any Mahler in it, it will still be a busy day for me. I'll post my many many thoughts on this past evening's wonderful concert some time tomorrow; I'm not too sure when exactly. My thoughts are still simmering and sloshing around in the brain a bit....

Until then, my friends......

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Welcome, new readers! (back up title: an opportunity for me to talk about myself, which I'm very good at)

I've noticed a considerable spike in readership in the past 48 hours or so, and it's more than just the usual number I get when I post a new blog. The readers are also from places I haven't seen any hits from normally (although quite a few are from Nashville, understandably). I figure, it's a new year---I'll reintroduce myself, tell you all a bit about my blog, my favorite color, what I order from Starbucks, etc etc. I know you can read the "about me" section, but that's just a little snippet. Perhaps you are wondering what on earth this blog is about? How did it come about? And does Mahler REALLY owe me ten bucks???

My name, in case you missed it, is Chantal. I live in Indianapolis, where I am a classical music critic for NUVO newsweekly. I get to cover a lovely range of concerts, from recitals to chamber music and even the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra on occasion. If you are interested in reading those reviews, simply go to NUVO's site, and type in my name, and voila! You'll find a plethora of reviews. I've been writing for them coming on two years this February.

Let's see, other essentials....I'm a double bassist, since the age of 10, making it nearly 20 years. Wow, that's a long time....2/3 of my life! I attended the IU School of Music, and studied with both Bruce Bransby and Lawrence Hurst. In high school I studied with three bassists in the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, all who very much rocked and taught me tons. I feel sorry they had to deal with me---I was a terrible practicer. I'm better now than I was then!

So, you get I'm a musician, and a writer, but how did the blog come about? Well, I was first inspired by Alex Ross. He took a tour down the orchestras of the I-65, hitting up the Indianapolis, Nashville, and Alabama Symphony Orchestras. I thought a tour of sorts would be fun, especially if I kept a diary about my travels. At the same time, I was lamenting the fact that the Indianapolis Symphony wasn't playing any Mahler, YET AGAIN. (ugh, very frustrating for me.) So with the urging of some friends, I decided I'd embark upon as many Mahler concerts as possible. I had/have a few friends in some surrounding orchestras, and hit them up for comp tickets, or emailed PR departments explaining what I do, etc etc, and the responses were encouraging and helpful. (translation: kind words about my endeavors, and tickets). I owe quite a lot to my friends in orchestras and their PR counterparts---without them, I'd be stuck here every weekend, listening to Mahler on CD, vs in amazing concert halls. Last season my travels took me to Chicago, Cleveland, Cincinnati, LA, and DC. This season I haven't hit up as many yet, but have seen Cincinnati, Chicago, St. Louis, and Nashville. This coming week I'm in New York City to hear 2 Mahler concerts, and then another in Cincinnati a day or so after I get back. I hope to hit up Atlanta, Baltimore, Cleveland, and Philly later this season as well.

My blog is not some show of my head knowledge of music, or an opportunity for me to impress you with my brains, and ability to write and sound really amazing and sophisticated and oh so hip. Nope--this blog is essentially a diary about music, and particularly about my experiences hearing the music of Gustav Mahler. Sure sure, I could talk about harmonies and melodies and how this is significant to that historic moment when blah blah blah....but I'd rather tell you about the butterflies in my stomach that I get EVERY TIME I GO TO A MAHLER CONCERT. They have yet to disappear. And many times I find myself in wonderfully ridiculously overwhelming tears. (read about my very first Mahler concert for this blog here. It's hilariously long, be warned). And I am always terrified of those hammer blows in the 6th symphony. The 1st symphony is able to bring me joy like no other piece of music, and how I love to sit and listen to it with my eyes closed and a completely absurd looking smile on my face the whole time. (I'm sure it must look like that). That's what I write about here in the blog. If you want more "serious" writing (although this writing is very serious to me), you can check out my reviews for NUVO. Here I feel like this is a diary more than anything else, and I'm thrilled to share my thoughts with people. I seek not to impress anyone---instead I simply want to share my adventures with whomever wants to read about them. Apparently, there are a few of you, and for that I am grateful.

Essentially, that's me and my blog, in a nutshell. Other important bits of info? I have a cat named after a former teacher of mine. I like venti four pump soy no water chai's from Starbucks. I wear all black most of the time, with the occasional pink shirt thrown in for good measure. I can't remember a classical concert I've been to as of late where I did not hear high heels. I'm a HUGE fan of Bernstein's Mahler recordings. I do not own an iPod. (!) I listen to a lot of non-classical music, with Radiohead and Coldplay being some of my favorites. I sometimes blog voraciously, only to then disappear for a week or so. (this week I'll blog a lot though, I promises)

So, welcome to those who are new to the blog! It's delightful to have new readers in this exciting new year. I hope you enjoy the blog, and please!--feel free to chip in your comments about how much you might have loved a recent Mahler concert you went to, or maybe you realized you went to the same concert as I, and have completely different (or similar) thoughts. Feel free to share them by leaving a comment, or drop me an email at mahlerowesmetenbucks at hotmail dot com. I'd love to hear from you!

Mahler in Nashville

If the first Mahler concert of 2009 is any indication of perhaps how the rest of this year will go, then it looks like I'll be listening to some amazing concerts for the rest of 09!

I made the 4.5 hour drive from Indianapolis to Nashville, Tennessee to see the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Giancarlo Guerrero. They played my favorite Mahler symphony, no. 6, and you know that I don't like to miss out on Mahler 6 performances.

I arrived just a little bit late to the pre-concert talk, led by the Maestro, but got there just in time for him to talk about Mahler. (the first half of the program was a Haydn symphony, so I missed that portion of the talk). I was immediately taken by his enthusiasm for the work and the way he communicated to us, relaying info about Mahler, his wife, the themes, etc etc. It was like he was speaking to a group of friends.

I then thought very similar thoughts during the first piece, Haydn's Symphony no. 59 in A major, "Fire". I looked at Guerrero nearly the entire time, and I saw his work like a collaboration with the orchestra. It wasn't just the conductor and/vs the orchestra, but it was a partnership, and a good one at that. With no podium, and no baton, he led his orchestra through the short symphony often with what I thought was a smile on his face. His gestures were even joyful, which even if you didn't see, you ended up hearing in the music.

Mahler's 6th symphony----where to start, where to start.....first, did I mention I had the best seat in the house? Smack dab in the middle of the founder's circle. In fact, when I sat down at first, I had to remind myself to close my mouth because I didn't realize that the seat was going to be THAT good. I kind of stared around with my mouth hanging open (perhaps drooling too), saying "wow" every five seconds. The stories of the acoustics of Schermerhorn Symphony Hall are all dazzling of course (the Turner Concert Hall, where the NSO plays, is a shoebox, and it is PERFECT). I knew the stories were true, and was excited about that, but even more so when I sat down.

Right from the start I knew the acoustics were amazing. I didn't hear any muddiness, no poor balancing (Maestro Guerrero and the orchestra are a part of that as well, so kudos to them). I heard all sections of the orchestra clearly and wonderfully amplified as though they had a great micing system, yet they didn't--it's not needed in that hall.

If you have read through my blog before, you know how I love to drone on about every little detail in the performance (and even before and after, and about the ushers, and the acoustic things in the ceilings, and a myriad of other things) and no doubt I could do the same about this performance---but there are just a few key things that have been in my mind all night that I want to share.

As simplistic and unprofound as this sounds, the Nashville Symphony Orchestra is GOOD. Not that I expected them to be bad---certainly not. I actually had no idea what to expect really, as I don't own any recordings of theirs, and had never heard them either. But what I heard was an orchestra that plays well together, and responds extremely well to their conductor. Sure, there were a few slip ups, and some intonation issues, but I am happy to ignore those, because of what they did with the MUSIC, and not just the notes and the dynamic markings and the other little black markings all over the page.

What they did with the music also has to be tied to what Maestro Giancarlo Guerrero did up on the podium. The man gets Mahler. I can't put it any other way, other than he understands the exaggeration, the irony, the trope, the depth, the despair, and the utter joy that is Mahler. During the second movement (which was the scherzo, hooray!) I almost yelled out "Thank you!" to him. Oh the wonderful sarcasm and exaggeration of that movement--it had me chuckling to myself on occasion. The orchestra responded so well to all of Guerrero's movements (which are vivid and clear--I'd love to sit under his conducting some time!). His grand arm sweeps were translated to perfection from his orchestra, much like his foot stomping and crouching down low to get a quieter effect.

The fourth movement was terrifying, as it should be. The hammer blows--2 of them--were utterly terrifying. Here's the thing though--I know they are coming up. I've been listening to this work since I was in high school, and this was my fourth live performance of the 6th symphony. I never fail however, to get nervous about the hammer blows, and to then be jolted after I hear them. Before the first one I was doing what I have done before in performances--I was grabbing my hair, grimacing, and trying to shrink in to my seat to get away from the inevitable. I obviously couldn't get away, and then after the hammer blow, which sounded like a canon (and I swear I felt it in my chest), my head was in my hands, and I was still for quite some time--more so for the second blow as well. This to me is Mahler, essentially. Emotions taken to the extreme--terror over hammer blows that can't harm you in any way, but no doubt have the ability to leave an imprint on you whenever you hear them. And what other composer make me grab my hair in anticipation/worry/fear? No one.

This is what I want in a classical music experience too---I go to the symphony to be MOVED. I don't go to just have something to write in the blog, or for NUVO, or to make me feel more cultural, or as a date. I do it because I don't know of many other things where I just for about 2 hours and can experience the whole gammut of emotions. Seriously people---you know the cowbells in Mahler 6, right? I am not kidding you when I say that when I hear them, temporarily my life is perfect. That is the sound of contentment, simplicity, and peace to me. Cowbells. Who would've thunk it?

After the show, I was heading back to my car when I ran in to some musicians from the orchestra. I confirmed that they indeed were musicians before proceeding to babble on about what a great Mahler 6 this was for me, and how happy I was to make the drive, and Mahler this, Mahler that, I'm in NYC next week for 2 Mahler concerts, blah blah blah. Despite all my drooling and babbling they were more than kind, and interested in hearing about who else I've heard do Mahler 6. Here's my run down on that, which I gave them. Last season I heard the National Symphony under Slatkin, Chicago Symphony under Haitink, and the LA Phil under Eschenbach. I now add Nasvhille under Guerrero to the list. All the performances were essentially good, and I was pretty much on my feet for all of them. LA was the orchestra that was not only technically the best, but musically they were like gods. Now, of course Chicago was fantastic--technically spot on, and Haitink is brilliant to say the least. He's a little more reserved however, when it comes to Mahler. It's not as bombastic and out there in intensity as other conductors are, and I have to say, musically speaking, Nashville comes after LA in that category, and before Chicago, in their performances of Mahler 6. And on top of all of that, Nashville's hall is my second fave, after the Disney Hall. Kudos to you Nashville!

So who do I ultimately thank for this incredible night? It's a tie between the architect of that beautiful hall, Giancarlo Guerrero, and the orchestra. If I could, I would have run up to the stage right afterwards and given everyone a kiss on the cheek. It's such a gamble when you go to hear an orchestra play your favorite piece of music, especially when you've driven 4.5 hours for it I might add. You are never guaranteed a good orchestra experience. You'd think so, with at least 88 people on stage who own expensive instruments and who all most likely went to music school for quite a while and practice a lot (you hope). Yet it's not always so, which makes me feel cheated when I go to a bad performance---I feel ripped off and duped. Yet when it's good, and better yet it's delightful and leaves me grinning from ear to ear afterwards (no matter if there are scary hammer blows or not), it's like I've been given a precious, precious gift that never loses value, and leaves a significant imprint on my mind, and more importantly heart. This is what Mahler's music is meant to do to people! You don't have to take my word for it either---I'm certainly not the only Mahler fanatic around, and there are others who are far better musicians and writers than I, who would say the same (only far more eloquently, no doubt).

And with all that, I offer my thanks and congratulations to the Nashville Symphony Orchestra and Giancarlo Guerrero. Thank you for an incredible night of music making---one I am not going to forget any time soon.

Friday, January 9, 2009

New Year's Resolution: Hear More Mahler

I have no desire to come up with New Year's Resolutions that stink, like "exercise more" or "not spend as much money on make-up", etc etc. My resolution is fun, enjoyable, and completely attainable: hear more Mahler. I'm going to a plethora of concerts soon to help keep my resolution, and here's my schedule:

Saturday, Jan. 10th: Nashville Symphony Orchestra, Mahler 6.

Monday, Jan. 12th: Carnegie Hall, Mahler 3.

Wednesday, Jan. 14th: New York Philharmonic, Mahler 5. Oh, plus I'm going to the rehearsal in the morning. YES!!

Saturday, Jan. 17th: Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Mahler 1. Woo hoo, go Owen! (bass players should understand what I mean).

And, have I mentioned how excited I am for all of this? Four Mahler symphonies in the span of 7 days! Pretty exciting, to say the least.

It's hard to say which one I'm most excited for as well. Of course you know Mahler 6 is most likely my favorite of his (with Symph. no 1 fighting for my heart), plus I've never seen the Nashville Symphony, so I'm really looking forward to that. I was in the same studio at IU as one of their bassists, and I'm always happy to see classmates doing well. It's a treat for me to get to see them play with orchestras; I find myself extra proud that I went to IU as well. Then, I've never seen Mahler 3 live, so that's super exciting. Not to mention the fact that that's how I start my NYC vacation out, with some Mahler. It doesn't get much better than that. And then Mahler 5--I've heard it live, I've played it before, but this will be out of this world since Dudamel is conducting it. I'm going to get to see him live---WOW. Plus I am seeing the rehearsal that morning too, and that should be very interesting to see how he works with the orchestra. And last but certainly not least, is Mahler 1, a piece I know inside and out, backwards, forwards, sideways, etc, so of course I'm excited to hear the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Not to mention I'm a fan of principal bassist Owen Lee's playing. He's a fantastic musician, and I'm very much looking forward to him playing the big solo in the third movement.

Looks like I'll be doing well for my resolution, eh? Then the rest of the season should be good too, with a few more Mahler 6's scattered about, a Ruckert Lieder here or there, symph no. 9 as well....see, this is way more fun that "losing weight" or "saving more money", or other such silly resolutions.