Mahler Second at NJPAC

This afternoon I took The Daughter out to see the New Jersey Symphony and Westminster Symphonic Choir perform the tremendous “Resurrection” Symphony. I’ll tell you what, there are very few better ways to spend an hour and half than listening to this piece live. Number three on my “top 10 loudest symphonic works” countdown, no stereo system in the world can possibly do it justice.

NJPAC is a really fine hall, and NJSO conductor Neema Jarvi did a great job with it. In the first movement’s funeral march he resisted the temptation to do a Bernstein-like molto ritardando at all the key climaxes, so the great triplet figure leading into the recapitulation came roaring past you like fate itself. The places he did air out the tempo he did so effectively. The main theme of the second movement was really leisurely, all the more to emphasize the quickness of the second theme.

Twyla Robinson was the soprano solois, and Nancy Maultsby the mezzo. She had a little trouble picking up her pitch at the beginning of the Urlicht (it’s not easy), but recovered right away. Her voice hung beautifully over the orchestra on the long suspension that ends the movement.

And the finale rolled out in a big rush. It was only after the chorus came in, ppp, that he started to stretch things. Each phrase had a lot of time to breathe, and when the orchestra comes in start to roll on again. And he saved the biggest climax for where it belonged, that tremendous 13th chord. He pointed up at the roof and let it just sit there and ring for a long time before resolving it. Climax is too weak a word, it just lifted me out of my seat.

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After having performed this once I’ve got a lot of respect for what goes into it. It’s so powerful and so demanding.

And The Daughter? She liked it! I must be doing something right. Her favorite spots were very different from mine. I’m a trumpet player so guess what? I like the big brass sections. She dug the opening salvo from the ‘cellos and basses, and that ethereal entrance of the chorus at the end.

6 thoughts on “Mahler Second at NJPAC”

  1. I was there too, in a terrific box seat (last one on the right on the 1st tier) with movable chairs (I LOVE that!)

    As much as I love classical music, only the most moving of it drives me to tears.

    And this work and performance surely did, in the first movement, and then again in the last where I cried like a baby!

    My first time seeing Mahler 2nd live, and wow you’re not kidding that no audio system could possibly render the fortissimo crashing of bass drum, tympani, bells and cymbals all at once! It was quite an experience.

    The choral sound was just gorgeous.

    I didn’t care much for Ms. Maultsby’s vibrato, too much for my taste.

    I loved the way the soprano voice lifted out of the chorus into her solos, seamlessly, ethereally.

    We wondered if Mahler was the first to score offstage brass. I think he did it in the opening of his first symphony as well.

    My NJSO series is four concerts in New Brunswick. I added four concerts at NJPAC when they had the pre-sale online for single tickets. So glad that I got this concert, these seats, that performance, and a memory that will last a lifetime!


  2. I’ve been lucky enough to see it live about a half-dozen times, and every one has been memorable. Have you ever seen the Eighth? It doesn’t come around often, but when it does don’t miss it. Even bigger, if you can imagine that. Three choruses, eight soloists and the kitchen sink. The end of the first movement is almost literally a fireworks display.

    You’re correct, the First starts off with three trumpets offstage. I’m not aware of anything before that off the top of my head; the Berlioz Requiem plays around with the spatial arrangement of four brass choirs but they’re all on-stage.

    The Beethoven Leonore No. 3 overture has an offstage trumpet call, but that’s something out of the opera so I’m not sure it counts.

  3. We saw the NJSO Beethoven Fidelio Overtures concert just 2 or 3 weeks ago at the State Theater in New Brunswick. Come to think of it there WAS an offstage trumpet. How soon I forget!

    Thank you for the tips Tom, I’ll be on the lookout for those other works.

    When peering down at that sea of musicians I couldn’t help but think about Berlioz, and how pleased he would be!


  4. Hi there,

    I’m not sure if I have the correct person or not, but is this the same Tom McGee who was a music teacher in Rhode Island between the years 1990 and 1993? If not, I apologize, but if so, I’m a former student of yours and would love to chat with you sometime. Just shoot me an e-mail if I have the right person!

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