Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds
RAVEL Menuet antique
LIEBERSON Neruda Songs
MAHLER Symphony No. 1
Bach Week Program
Concerto in D Minor for two violins, BWV 1043
Cantata: Non sa che sia dolore , BWV 209
Motet: Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied , BWV 225
Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G, BWV 1048
Richard Webster, conductor
7:30 concert (Wagner, Chin, Berlioz)
12-2:30 3:30-6 rehearsals
10-1 Bach Week rehearsal
1-3 Bach Week rehearsal
7:30 Bach Week concert
The lack of concerts in my schedule is no mistake. Even though it was not my turn, I volunteered to be on call this week to avoid the Mahler 1st Symphony. Over the years I’ve come to loathe the piece and so take advantage of every opportunity to get out of playing it. Unfortunately for me it is one of those things that comes up at least once a year. If I’m not mistaken, the orchestra played it at subscription concerts less than 12 months ago. What is the deal with that? I wonder if listeners get as tired of it as I do. Anyway, the frequency of programming makes for some tricky maneuvering in order to avoid it. Nevertheless, I think I’ve missed four out of the last five. This week came as something of a mixed blessing however. Since the Mahler will be played in New York in two weeks I had to attend ‘tour rehearsals’ so I am prepared step in should any colleague become unavailable. I’ve got to say, having to play four tour rehearsals for such a warhorse was ridiculous. So, in spite of my best efforts, I ended up playing through the piece three or four more times.
One interesting feature of this iteration of the Mahler is the conversion of the famous (or infamous) passage at the beginning of the third movement from one bass solo to all basses, tutti. According to Haitink, a bassist in the London Symphony (?) had some proof the passage was originally intended to be played by the group, but due to very poor results at the first performances Mahler cut his losses and figured he would be better off letting one guy go it alone. I’m curious to know if the bassist who brought this up to Haitink was a principal or section player.
The Mahler solo has always been something of an oddity in my mind anyway, a perfect time for the section player to clean off strings or apply an extra swipe of rosin. When played poorly, the solo is an obvious embarrassment. But even when played ‘well’ it often comes across as overly expressive, an odd little flourish by an attention starved prima ballerina, out of place at the outset of a solemn piece of music. It is a bit sad to think the standard of bass playing has taken more than a hundred years to match the composer’s original intention, but there it is.
Bach Week is always a pleasant gig, the perfect after dinner mint after a week of (at least rehearsing) Mahler 1.