Sunday, June 24, 2007

Rise Again!

What’s the best way to get an excellent seat at a symphony concert at Kitara Hall in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan, for free? It’s a rather lengthy process, but first one tries out for the Sapporo Symphony Chorus; then, after passing the audition, one spends long hours every Tuesday night and sometimes weekends rehearsing.

For the celebration of Sapporo Symphony's 500th performance, they chose Mahler's Symphony #2 in C minor, a grandiose piece which acts as a showcase for the orchestra, using practically every instrument possible. It was a truly uplifting experience, though one that required enormous physical energy, perhaps the most demanding piece I've ever sung. For Sopranos, it meant singing a range of notes extending from the A below middle C to a high B, and from PPPP to FFF. Nevertheless, having practiced since January, and especially after 5 rehearsals and 2 performances with the orchestra, I really grew to love this powerful symphony, which goes through the gamut of emotions from pathos to joy.

One of its most transcendent moments is when the Soprano solo slips almost imperceptibly from the voices of the chorus, rising to an E flat as she sings, "Rise again!" (from the poem Die Auferstehung [The Resurrection] by Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock). The Soprano/Alto duet in the 5th movement, from which the chorus continues singing "With wings . . . I shall soar upwards too the light which no eye has penetrated!", makes me wish Mahler had written operas. He did, at least, include choral music in several of symphonies.

Audiences at both Sapporo Symphony performances responded enthusiastically, and the June 24th performance was broadcast on NHK radio. You can read what the Hokkaido Shimbun wrote about it (in Japanese) here. I've discovered since that the piece was played by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Leonard Bernstein, for its 1000th performance. Read James R. Oestreich's June 15, 2003, New York Times review of that performance in "Music: Tuning Up/Mahler's Symphony No. 2; Picking Up Beethoven's Gauntlet."

That's me in the second row, second from the left. I couldn't have asked for a better seat!

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