"Death of a Symphony"??……Not so fast!!

One of the negative effects of participating so actively in the operatic forum is that of occasionally becoming musically ‘land-locked’.  After day-in and day-out of rehearsal, where the centerpiece is musical, sometimes the last thing we want to do in our free time is take in more music.  Oft times, I will do anything I can to get away from music.  I listen to talk radio, follow the financial markets, go to museums, or take in a series of “straight-theatre” productions.  However, there are times when an instrumental recital, chamber music concert, a Broadway musical, or symphonic program are in order; and the latter will be the focus of this particular blog posting.

Arthur Miller’s 1949 play, Death of a Salesman, is fixated on the topics of achievement and greatness.  So much so, that it’s protagonist (Willy Loman) commits suicide in an effort to provide his son with enough insurance/seed money to begin business ventures of his own, and hopefully achieve the prominence that so eluded him throughout his life as a traveling salesman.  Fortunately for the city of Dallas, achievement and greatness in their arts scene does not require anyone to sacrifice themself to the death (although some may argue that point to some extent!).

I was fortunate that on Friday March 25, I was able to attend the Dallas Symphony‘s performance of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 6 in A minor (often referred to as the “Tragic” Symphony).  This work was virtually ignored for almost half a century after it’s premiere, at least here in the United States; but has, to some extent, experienced a bit of resurgence in recent years.  As I roamed the magnificent Meyerson Symphony Center, I was struck by many visuals before the concert even began:

There was the sweeping lobby design with it’s artful entryway and modern marble curvature staircases/promenades; the soaring expansive interior with floor to ceiling windows that allowed for wonderful views of the new Winspear Opera House and all of downtown Dallas, and the tasteful (if a bit large) photographs of orchestra members that donned the walls of the lower lobby.  In the concert hall itself, I was struck by the classic wood design, the behemoth pipe organ, and the jutting, aerial suspended, lighting structure that so resembled the starship Enterprise, that I thought for a moment I was watching it fly overhead…just like the opening scene of every episode of Star Trek!

Then the concert began:

I watched a charismatic, and thankfully not too “showy”, Jaap van Zweden conduct a consummate performance of this sometimes less than marketable work. (I will get to the one MAJOR musical flaw of the evening a bit later.)  With it’s animated kick-start Allegro, plucky Scherzo (figurative and literal), heart-stoppingly beautiful Andante, and the bow-shredding Finale replete with two ‘decibel busting’ hammer-blows-of–fate (struck on a giant make shift drum with a “Thor”-esque sledge that would compete admirably with the famed Dies Irae bass-drum from the Verdi Requiem), this was one hour and fifteen minutes of “something for everybody” programming that did not require any follow up or precursor.  Hence, it was the stand-alone work performed this night, whose final chord eventually dissipated and left in it’s wake what can only be described as the most breathless, ear-splitting silence I have probably ever experienced.

But it was not the marble, or the glass, or the wood, the starship Enterprise, or even the glorious sight of 8 shiny French Horns, whose instrumental bodies were often raised parallel to the floor over their practitioner’s right shoulders, OR EVEN THE MUSICAL PERFORMANCE ITSELF (as excellent as it was!) that impressed me so very much.  What impressed me the most was the sight of–not tens, not twenties, but–quite literally hundreds of young ’20’, ’30’, and ’40-something’ aged folks who attended on this Friday night.  I watched them come into the Symphony Center dressed from business casual, to casual-chic, to well beyond ‘the nines’ (young Dallas ladies seem to love those short—and I mean short—dresses and towering high heels), both men and women, of all colors, shapes, and sizes;  and THIS was their Friday night out!  I observed them in their seats, and I watched them leave over free coffee and cookies post concert, (while the Maestro took some time to meet interested attendees), and was quite heartened as I thought about the future of classical music audiences.  That’s the demographic that every arts organization wants in their seats, and the Dallas Symphony has somehow snagged them!  Then I thought about how just a few moments earlier the Dallas Symphony did what the Cleveland Orchestra did so very well during my years of watching them as I grew up and attended school; they literally pulled the audience out of their seats at the end of the performance for a well deserved standing ovation.

So when folks out there talk about the “Death of Classical Music”, or as I entitled this blog-posting, “The Death of a Symphony”; I will simply say “Not so fast!”.  At least not here in Dallas!!

And just for the sake of good order and full disclosure: I do not work for, have never sung with, am not scheduled to sing with, and probably never will sing with, the Dallas Symphony.  I am, however, here to sing with the Dallas Opera in their very upcoming production of Boris Godunov (see previous post). The above is simply what I experienced, the way I experienced it!!

Oh yes; back to that MAJOR musical flaw I mentioned earlier…..It’s probably best to identify it with a question that I will pose to Maestro van Zweden (not that he will ever read this):

Would it have been so terrible to allow that third “hammer-blow-of-fate” to be struck???  I was waiting for it, thought for sure it was coming, but it never did.  Tell you what Maestro; the next time you perform this work, let it happen….c’mon….do it just for me!!!