Great to see many of you last weekend for the fantastic finale to Edo de Waart’s first MSO residency! Schumann’s 4th Symphony and Mahler’s 1st Symphony. It’s hard to top the adrenaline rush I think we all got from the performance!
I think I am dealing with a bit of separation anxiety with the departure of the Maestro until January. Things will now pick up for me with youth concerts, tour concerts, and special events with the MSO – but I will miss having the daily opportunity to run all of my musical thoughts past someone with such experience and artistry. So in order to fill up the time until he gets back, I’m going to start a three-part series on some of the aspects of Edo de Waart’s work that are most fascinating to me – “The Mahler Conductor”, “The Opera Conductor”, and “The Repertoire Conductor”.
I’ll start with the Mahler since hopefully most of you had the chance to hear the most recent concert and are still busy telling everyone how amazing it was…
I hear it all the time – “Oh, he is such a great Mahler Conductor.” Someone is always being hailed as a great Mahler Conductor. Edo de Waart is no exception. But I think sometimes we take the term too much for granted. Of all the composers in the history of music, Mahler’s scores are the most “idiot proof”. Composers write things in their scores like “fast”, “short”, “accented”, “sweetly” – but how many composers other than Mahler write “fast, but not rushing”, or “accented, but very tender”, or “gradually and imperceptibly get faster”. Mahler even goes so far as to place a footnote in the score that begins: “THIS IS NOT A MISTAKE…” Mahler is obsessed with making sure that the conductor knows exactly what will make the piece sound the best. He’s practically spoon-feeding you good musical taste! With that in mind, I spent many years thinking that all you had to do with a Mahler score was follow all two-thousand subtle directions he gave you and you were set. Now don’t get me wrong, following all those markings accurately is no easy task and many simply choose not to even try. But I have a hard time believing that someone should be hailed as a great Mahler conductor when they simply successfully followed what Mahler wrote in the score. Instead I learned an important lesson last week watching Maestro and the MSO piece together the vast 1st Symphony: a great Mahler conductor faithfully follows Mahler’s directions, but finds an organic way to piece them together. That is what made the performance so spectacular and refreshing. Now I know the term “organic” is overused and vague, but I’m not sure how much more specific I can get without including musical examples. It’s the small decisions that make the difference – taking the slower edge of a tempo to connect it with a new section, or not allowing any anticipation of dynamic changes. It is something that is felt rather than heard in the audience. These things can only come with experience – on the other hand, my score is now covered with notes from Edo de Waart’s rehearsals so hopefully I won’t be starting from scratch the next time I open up Mahler 1. Thanks, Maestro! Looking forward to more in 2012!