It's a few days later and I'm still thinking about the Columbia Orchestra performance of Mahler's Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection" on Saturday night. It's my favorite Mahler symphony and one that I don't get to hear in concert that often. It calls for a massive orchestra with offstage musicians and a chorus, and it's tremendously difficult to play and conduct. I know one of the musicians in the orchestra well (my brother) and I’ve met a few others, so I feel a bit of a personal connection to the group. Also, I know the piece inside and out, so I was attuned to every entrance, every phrase and cymbal crash. (I had a good view of the cymbal player.) It felt like a bit of a high-wire act for everyone involved.
It was a phenomenal performance. Music Director Jason Love conducted without a score, something I dream of (but also have nightmares about). Everyone involved played beautifully. The soloists were fantastic and the chorus sang with emotion. There were a few missed notes and a couple of places where the strings rushed a bit and things threatened to pull apart just a little, but it all held together. The music had drama and excitement and the massive crescendos and climaxes were thrilling. Love's grasp of this music was clear not just from his conducting, which was precise and energetic, but also from his "behind the music" mini-lecture before the performance. He discussed the themes of the piece and illustrated them by having the orchestra play brief excerpts. Even for an experienced Mahlerian like me, it was a valuable refresher and pointed out a few things I hadn’t noticed before.
From the opening tremolo to the glorious E flat major chords at the end, I was engaged with the music in a way that was totally different from when I've heard this piece performed by professionals like the New York Philharmonic. Maybe it was my relationship to the orchestra, or maybe it was the high-wire feeling, or maybe it was just that I was sitting closer to the orchestra than I’ve ever sat for this piece, but it was a most exciting performance that I won't soon forget.