Posted by: David Stewart | May 23, 2010

Genius music and a hat-full of tricks

Bombastic. Emotional. Over the top.


Last night Deb and I went to the Oregon Symphony’s last performance of the season. The featured highlight of the program was Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, the “Titan”.

I have been a Mahler fan since my 20s, when I first encountered Mahler’s Second symphony , “Resurrection.” But even in his first full-on symphony, Mahler pulled out a hat-full of of orchestral tricks:

  • The orchestra numbers are massive. There are 8 French horns. If one set of timpani are not enough, there are two complete sets onstage plus another three percussionists playing Chinese gong, cymbals, bass drum and triangle.
  • Three of the trumpets begin the quiet first movement offstage, blaring a fanfare as if in the distance. They then troop back onstage to their places.
  • At several points, members of the woodwind section (clarinets, oboes) raise their instruments above their music stands to get an even louder sound.
  • The entire French horn section stands on the last page of the Finale, to really deliver a massive punch at the end.
  • But there are plenty of quiet moments, like when principal bassist Frank Diliberto starts the third movement with the old Fench tune “Frère Jacques”, played in a sad minor key.
  • At one point in the third movement’s stately funeral march, the orchestra suddenly shifts into double time in a klezmer band number like a Jewish folk tune played in the woodwinds, then downshifts back into the march again.

Carlos Kalmar, Portland’s Uruguayan-turned-Austrian music director, played his adopted countryman’s music with flair. Ever the showman, with his graying mane flying, he literally danced with the Scherzo and at one point during the Finale raised his arms in straight up as if in praise.

An amazing performance, greeted with a standing ovation and four returns of Kalmar to the podium to bow. Bravo!


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