If you like your symphonies full bodied you should have been in Ann Arbor last night when the Ann Arbor Symphony did Mahler’s Symphony No. 6. With just under 100 musicians the stage was packed. And every one of those musicians played their hearts out.
The 6th is relentless…full…lush spellbinding. It could be…should be…the score for a movie. That would be something wouldn’t it…to make a movie…perhaps a silent movie (the better to enjoy the music).. to fit the drama of Mahler’s 6th. It has everything an epic movie should have; marching armies, intimate battles, galloping horses, angst, star crossed lovers, mothers tenderly watching their children who grow up to march in armies heading off to battle, gentle love scenes, peaceful pastoral settings…more marching armies. Life. Death.
The musicians played 80 minutes and there were very few of those minutes that allowed any of them to rest. Those of us in the audience sat still for 80 minutes, only letting our breaths out for the few seconds between each of the four movements.
We enjoyed fantastic woodwinds, royal trumpets and stunning horns. The strings played as one, the harps were ethereal, the percussion added a sense of drama alternating with humor. The music swelled and lifted us in ever tighter revolutions, higher and higher into rarefied air and then let us down gently onto a moss strewn forest floor where we luxuriated in sunshine and harmony until the music swept us up on the next wave of emotion again. Over and over we raced high above earth and then floated back.
Mahler wrote about this piece as he was composing it. He said it was going to be like nothing the world had heard before. Last night it often seemed bigger than the world, as if it could touch every corner of our planet. The sound was bigger, brighter, more luminous than words can describe. You had to be there. You should have been there.
Finally the whole piece came down to the last measures, measures as soft and delicate as a final breath. They gave me goose bumps. And as the musicians let that last note go, as the conductor stood still with his hands in the air as if to hold on for one more moment, as the audience held it’s breath, my eyes filled with tears.