The orchestra has the day off by the Bay today, so I’m not going to pester anyone for an update, but after seeing sterling reports of Friday night’s Adams-Mahler concert, I thought this quote from the brilliant jazz pianist Vijay Iyer was appropriate: “Music is made of us listening to each other.”
The orchestra left the bright skies of Palm Desert Friday morning for the clouds and rain of Berkeley in the afternoon. I reached second violinist Andrea Jarrett just after she and her fellow musicians had reached the hotel. “We can’t see anything past the hotel,” she told me. “Yesterday in Palm Desert we faced the mountains.”
Last night’s concert at the McCallum Theatre “was awesome,” she said. “The hall was kind of dry,” she reported, “but as challenging as that was I think it made us listen more closely and we played tighter. The concert was almost sold out so there was a lot of energy. I find we’re getting settled into the pieces. We don’t have to count so frantically in the John Adams’ [Saxophone Concerto] because we’re feeling more comfortable.”
Many of the musicians of the St. Louis Symphony are serious foodies. Andrea offered up a not-so-serious, yet delicious sounding culinary discovery: Dole Whip. “Yesterday my boyfriend and I were on the main drag of Palm Desert and discovered it. They take Dole pineapple juice and whip it into soft serve.”
Friday night it’s Adams and Mahler Symphony 5 again at UC-Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall. Then a day off for the ensemble that remains to play Messiaen’s From the Canyons to the Stars Sunday afternoon. Andrea is among those. “We’re hoping to do a lot of food/coffee exploring. Plus, I knit in my spare time and there’s a yarn shop really close to the hotel. There’s a particular brand of yarn I found on Instagram, and they have it there. Very hipster yarn.”
Mahler Symphony Nos. 4 and 5 give orchestral musicians reasons for being. Symphony No. 4 is the other side of the Mahler moon. It doesn’t provide the signature gorgeous racket of Mahler’s great and grandiose Fifth. The Fourth is Mahler’s shortest symphony, and as double bassist David DeRiso observed: “It’s all the swagger of Mahler with all his pastoral brilliance scaled down, so I don’t have to wear earplugs and can mostly hear myself!”
Also to be heard will be the “transcendent” (hornist Tod Bowermaster’s word) soprano Susanna Phillips, singing both the Mahler 4 and Claude Vivier’s Lonely Child.
Concertmaster David Halen has given this weekend of music (April 2-3) big kudos. For Halen, this program, which includes Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite, “is a favorite, because these three pieces are some of the most beautiful scores ever written. All three are masterpieces from entirely different soundscapes. I can’t image a more incredible program than this.”
So what makes Mahler 5 the top hot pick of the season for St. Louis Symphony musicians? Mahler symphonies keep everyone busy, artfully. They call on all their chops. Musicians are trained to be attentive of each other in the midst of performance, and Mahler symphonies call for super attention. There is very little the Fifth Symphony doesn’t do, or doesn’t say. There is not an untapped emotion. It is a reason to be, and to be a musician. Or as double bassist David DeRiso said it, “The Mahler 5 is really the piece that made me want to play in an orchestra for a living.”
You don’t need to be in the trumpet section to appreciate the trumpet highlights that may be heard in the upcoming 1516 concert season. First violinist Jessica Cheng had this to say about the trumpet solo that opens Mahler’s Symphony No. 5:
“Mahler 5 was the first symphony I played on my first subscription concert here 6 years ago, and at that time Susan Slaughter played the opening notes and blew me away. That was when I knew I was part of something really special. And this time, so many new faces have entered the orchestra since that day, and Karin [Bliznik] is playing the opening notes, and I’m sure I’ll be just as blown away.”
Associate Principal Trumpet Tom Drake, in answer to a request for his “hot picks” for 1516, informed me that this a very “trumpet interesting” season coming up at Powell Hall. He suggested I poll the trumpet section. So I did.
1) Mahler 5. Unanimous. (Principal Karin Bliznik, Associate Tom Drake, Jeffrey Strong, who joins the section in 1516, and Mike Walk). The Symphony opens with Bliznik playing a transcendent solo.
2-Tie) Richard Strauss’ Don Quixote. Flutter-tonguing may enter your vocabulary.
2-Tie) The Planets. Jupiter the Bringer of Jollity. Sweet trumpet dreams were made of these.
Other top picks among the section: Selections from Prokofiev’s Cinderella & Romeo & Juliet, and his Symphony No. 3; Selections from Wagner’s Parsifal; Gershwin’s An American in Paris; Messiaen’s From the Canyons to the Stars; Mahler 4; and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, orchestrated by Ravel.