About neuroscience and music (mainly classical). Exploring the relationship of music and the brain based on experience of two careers.

April 9, 2018

Mahler at the LA Phil, a Trumpian Swamp, and Miss April

I heard (and saw) Das Lied von der Erde Saturday evening. The production added ‘cinema’ made by Teatrocinema of Chile on a semi-transparent screen behind the orchestra. The singers in costumes with a few props appeared in real time and space through the landscapes and phantasmagorical scenes projected onto the screen. (You can see photos on Twitter.) The production was very creative but, for me, a person curiously rooted in the 19th Century, a bit distracting from the sublime music. Our seats faced across Disney Hall, about 10 ft in front of the podium and 20 feet above stage left. So to see the orchestra I had to look about 20 degrees down and to the right. To see the screen we had to turn about 45 degrees to the right and, to read the translations (total of 158 lines), to look up almost to the ceiling above the screen. (I should have read the translations — not in the program and passed through several languages from the original Chinese  before the performance.) 

The singers, Russell Thomas, tenor and Tamara Mumford, mezzo-soprano, were wonderful but their position behind the screen and orchestra (probably near the organ pipes about 20 feet behind the percussion section) slightly diminished their 'presence,' if you know what I mean. Instead of a pit, there was an entire onstage orchestra in front of them. When Mumford sang with Denis Bouriakov, the principal flutist, the balance seemed slightly too much in favor of the flute. But I do like to hear the flute played so well and it usually is the victim of imbalance, at least in its lower registers!) 

All was conceived and directed by the MacArthur genius Fellow-in-Residence, Juval Sharon. His pre-concert (“Upbeat Live”) rapid-fire lecture beforehand was moderately illuminating — Mahler was basically ‘operatic’ and coming off several life disasters — even though the audio system failed (unusual for those polished productions). On the podium, Gustavo again proved he is the “Real Thing” so the music was exquisite, spanning a huge gamut between carefree joyfulness to utter despair, sometimes signaled by the terrifying growling of the contrabassoon. 

Will this concept of the live classical "music video" take its place alongside BeyoncĂ©, U2, and Bruno Mars? 

As usual, I wished Mahler’s SBE (subacute bacterial endocarditis) could have received the benefit of modern diagnosis and antibiotic treatment that became possible in the 1950's. But, maybe restoration to better health might have blunted his premonition of death that he so brilliantly captured in so many of his works, especially the 9th Symphony and Das Lied. Pathology as muse, so to speak. "Mahler's idea of leave-taking at its best" that, in the life of the great Dr. Lewis Thomas, changed with his own aging into what it may be for many of us today, ". . . the door-smashing intrusion of a huge new thought: death everywhere, the dying of everything." (Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler's Ninth Symphony, 1980.)

Happier thought: The road on which our tiny Interlochen cottage has rested since the 1940's bisects a large lot on Green lake around from the Interlochen Center for the Arts. The house is far closer to the lake than permitted by current code, and the section of the lot on the other side of the road is unusually large. But that section is unusable because it is a Trumpian swamp that never dries out. There are two old shacks on it, one rotting and sinking into the swamp but the other, facing and close to the roadside, still can serve for storage. 

Or for composing music, as Mahler did in his third (and last) summer composing hut. I have debated the idea of preserving ours — as we accumulate the inevitable clutter that seems to build up in both of the other homes in our ‘real estate empire' (as Phil DeMuth calls it). So maybe I will replace the roof shingles with metal and put on a front like this. A plaque (auf Deutch) will mark it as a replica of Mahler’s hut in Dobbiaco on the Italian/German border where he wrote the 9th and Das Lied. Our hut is almost identically proportioned and will be better maintained than Mahler's has been, at least until the contrabassoon comes for us.

Our friend Amy Jo Rhine, daughter of retired Lebanon High band director, Bob Rhine and the 3rd hornist in the orchestra, was on vacation but present in spirit. She was 'Miss April’ on the concert program, as her mother called her. Too bad we didn't see her. There are great horn parts in Das Lied.

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