If you read my blog for New York Philharmonic news (and who doesn't?) then you might enjoy Alan Gilbert's new blog over at Musical America. His first post started out perfectly, with the declaration that he wasn't going to expound on what it means to be the music director of a major American orchestra in 2010. Instead, his blog focuses on the little things, like the daily life of a modern music director. He discussed how he doesn't have as much time as he'd like to study the music he's conducting, as his day is occupied with so many other non-musical concerns like meetings and planning. He also said he's not going to write frequently, but obviously the man has enough to do without "feeding the beast" regularly, as he puts it in his second post.
Speaking of the New York Philharmonic, I attended my first concert of the season last Wednesday (September 29), a performance of Mahler's Symphony No. 6. I'd never heard this symphony live before and to be honest, it's a difficult one for me to get into. The last movement in particular is long and winding, and every time I've listened to it at home or work I've been distracted. At Avery Fisher Hall, with no distractions other than patrons coughing, I was able to focus on the music. And it's terrifying at times. It's easily Mahler at his most frightening. And just when triumph seems poised to break through the fear, there's a hammer blow that brings the music back to the tragic. The hammer blows are clear on every recording I've heard, but since I'd never seen the symphony in performance I had no idea how the percussion section would play them. I expected to see a hardware store sledgehammer and some kind of drum. Instead, there was a large wooden box at the back of the percussion section. Three times in the last movement, one of the percussionists walked over and took hold of the handle of a giant, cartoonish wooden sledgehammer and prepare for the blow. A few measures before the cue, he lifted the sledgehammer over his head and, right on the downbeat, brought it crashing onto the wooden box. It was a scary and impressive sound. I was equally impressed with his ability to get the blow exactly on the downbeat. And I loved the precision of the section as they moved around and changed instruments, on stage and offstage, throughout the symphony. That's what you get with a world-class percussion section.