The KW Symphony asked me to write a note to our audience for our upcoming Mahler 5 concert. Here’s what I wrote:
It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon in California, kids riding bikes outside the house, waves breaking on the beach, but there I am again, holed up in my room, listening to the music of Gustav Mahler. I don’t know what this says about me and the kind of teenager I was, but it does say a lot about the power of Mahler’s music. I remember hearing it for the very first time, and how it seemed to encompass a vast psychological space. How time seemed to completely stop, or speed up. How I was carried along by the music as if I were on a raft floating down a wide, turbulent river. The overwhelming emotion of the music captivated me. The tears, suffering and transcendence contained in these symphonies hinted at joy and heartbreak I had yet to experience. In these symphonies, I felt an uncanny power: the sounds themselves made me vibrate like a tuning fork with unexperienced emotion. My own nascent feelings and perceptions were amplified through Mahler, and left me breathless, tearful, elated.
Years later I feel the same power. But now, Mahler seems now to amplify emotions I experienced in the past. Certain passages bring back memories of people who have come and gone in life, delicate memories of childhood, rage which burned out long ago, the dizziness of unrequited love. In his symphonies, Mahler lays out a vast world of sound, memory and emotion, and inevitably we find ourselves somewhere on his map. As public and grand as his works are, they are also shockingly intimate. They speak to our inner life, our hidden feelings and perceptions. By amplifying these feelings Mahler reminds us all how much our lives actually matter, right now.
So here you are, in the audience, about to hear Mahler’s Symphony No. 5. You’ve reached the end of the day, you’re relaxing in your seat. But soon there will be a trumpet call, and then … cataclysm! Mahler’s world is about to crash down on you. You’ll hear sound of an entire orchestra baring their souls and then you’ll begin your journey. First, an epic lament and then the search for meaning, following a winding path of grief, rage, confusion, childhood memories, love, and giddiness, disappointment, and joy, all expressed through pure sound. At times you will feel lost, at other times you will hear things that hit home. You will feel your own life amplified by Mahler’s music, as if this composer has somehow read your mind, and your heart.
So here we go. The concert is about to begin. Thank you for being here. Now, get ready.