Saturday, October 9, 2010

Mahler Symphony no. 2 with the BSO

This past Thursday, I went to see the BSO play a live performance of Mahler's Symphony no. 2, and it was an absolutely amazing performance. If you have a chance to see it this weekend, all of you should make an effort to see this monumental work.

When I'm usually listening to Mahler symphonies at home, I usually take breaks between movements because his symphonies are extremely long. There wasn't an intermission when I went to see the BSO, and I'm not used to listening for a prolonged period of time without a break. Usually when you go to a recital or any classical music concert, a performance half usually does not go for more than 30-45 minutes. I don't want to say that I have a low attention span, but for a large piece like this, there needs to be breaks. Dave from out Futures of Classical Music class may speak from experience as a french horn player, but I believe a taxing brass piece of music should have breaks. I know they are professionals, but I think the audience and the players themselves would like to have breaks. What do you (members of the class and blog readers) think about having breaks between movements of a large piece?

Clapping in between movements is considered impolite, improper, and incorrect during any classical music concert. During the BSO concert, there was an applause between movements when the soloists (vocalists) came onto the stage. I think it is kind of funny when someone plays a terrific 1st movement anywhere, and no one claps after a virtuosic piece of music. I also attended the Pacifica Quartet concert this past Tuesday, and I noticed after they played a terrific first virtuosic movement of Shostakovich's String Quartet no. 3, you heard an overall approval with no clapping. I would describe it as a light polite "ahhhhhhhhh" from the audience. Why not just clap for the performers? Is it so ingrained in ourselves not to make exceptions every once in a while? Referring back to Levine, you would obviously not do a thunderous, boisterous, bombastic applause after a nocturne is played, but I think after an awesome 1st movement, you should give a polite applause.

One other thing I found interesting about the Mahler symphony was the chorus. The chorus sings in the last movement only, but they came on stage, and literally sat down the whole time and stood up for the last movement. I guess it may take a while for them to come on stage together as a group, but I thought that would be the most opportune time to take a break while the chorus comes on stage for the last movement. I guess you could say the same thing about the harp or organ player who just have one solo through the whole piece, but this is a large chorus that you could have an exception for.

1 comment:

Dave B. said...

I am going to try and get tickets to the final Mahler performance tomorrow - I really hope I can see it!

Matthew, you make some really good points and bring up valid questions about our "performance etiquette." I agree with you completely that Mahler symphonies are difficult to sit through, at least until you are familiar with the work. Don't get me wrong, Mahler is pretty much my favorite composer, but it certainly takes me awhile to absorb his music.

That being said, I'm not sure that full breaks between movements would be appropriate, especially for Mahler. Mahler was famously quoted as saying, "The symphony must be like the world - it must embrace everything." Mahler viewed his symphonies as something beyond "program music." For him, the music didn't just tell a story, it portrayed a whole universe, a whole life (and possibly the afterlife as well).

As such, the movements in Mahler's symphonies are often designed to directly relate with each other. They sometimes feature abrupt changes in character or mood that might be lost if a long break were inserted.

I'm not really sure what the right answer is, and I'm just playing devil's advocate to your point of view. In summary, do we need some kind of break or intermission in Mahler symphonies? Yes. But should we create lengthy breaks between movements? No.