Sounds like a prizefight – kind of like the "Thrilla in Manilla." In a sense, that’s not a bad description. Most of Mahler’s Second Symphony is a struggle, between despair and hope, musical motifs, and extreme dynamic ranges.
I left early to make the drive up and over the mountains to Brevard. I was unsure of traffic and the parking situation It was a good call on both accounts, as Sunday leisurely drivers slowed things down, and folks had already arrived at the Brevard Music Center for picnic lunches. This being the last day of the summer program, many parents were there to pick up participants, etc. I found a relaxed, albeit rather warm and humid environment.
I found our rehearsal spot occupied by a gathering audience. It seems there was to be a pre-concert lecture in that location. I just hoped that they were going to finish in time. I found a place under a canopy and settled in with my book. Someone came by and asked if I was the choral director, which is odd since Bing and I look nothing alike.
Shortly before our time to gather for rehearsal, the rain started. The picnickers rushed into the auditorium, and we made our way to Thomas Auditorium. The rain let up just enough for us to make our way to the stage after a brief warm-up.
The concert itself went very well. There is nothing like a live orchestral performance. One hears much more detail than from a recording. The performance required a huge number of performers. There were two complete tympani sets, and one additional lone tympani off-stage. The huge amount of percussion included no less than two gongs. There had to be at least fifteen horns, with one group of them off-stage.
As mentioned before, this symphony is a study in contrasts. There are dark, somber passages, light frivolous passages, and various shades in between. At one point there is a battle between on group off stage and what is happening on stage, with conflicting tempi and musical styles. As the massive percussion section built up to a crescendo, thunder rolled outside in perfect timing. I was able to pick out a dies irae theme in the trombones, but it immediately morphed into something more triumphant
The storm bumped up the humidity to almost unbearable levels. On stage it was sweltering, and there was sweat pouring from almost all of the performers. Of the hour and a half concert, we only sing for the last fifteen minutes. Of that most of it was done seated. There was a dramatic point where we stood for the last couple of pages of the concert.
My vocal part was extreme in its range, both for dynamics and pitch. We began as soft as humanly possible. Mahler indicated a pppp dynamic level. By the end of the piece, we were up to a triple forte. The baritone part went from a very low E to a high G, a range of two octaves plus a minor third. While it was only fifteen minutes, it was a workout.
This was David Effron’s last concert as musical director of the Brevard Music Center. The response to his last performance was great, as the applause went on for nearly as long as we sang. As the ovation continued, Effron made his way through the sections, hugging several of the performers. I had never sung with this Grammy-winning conductor before, but I was glad to have had this opportunity. Several monthis from now, I get to go through this all over again with the Greenville Symphony.
And on a final note, the new music director has been announced – Keith Lockhardt, former Furman classmate and current conductor of the Boston Pops.