Saturday, April 15, 2006

Mahler's Symphony no. 2 "Resurrection" and other Easter musings

(You get a cookie if you can spot me in this picture, BTW. Hint, I'm in the alto section and not in the orchestra.)

Given the holiday, I wanted to post about one of most amazing pieces I've ever had the honor to perform. The mp3 snippet I have was recorded on February 10th, 2003 by the Choral Arts Society of Austin, TX under the direction of James Morrow and the University of Texas Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Kevin Noe. You can listen to this live recording showcasing the last 4 minutes of the finale: Movement 5 of Mahler's Symphony Number 2 "Resurrection"

Although the recording can't do the live experience justice, here are some snippets from an old journal entry of mine that conveys a little bit of what I felt after the first time I ever performed this piece:

Dr. James Morrow, my choir director, told all of us on the first day of rehearsal this would be a life-changing piece. It would be a work that would stir and awake our innermost passions to the extent that all of our emotions-pain, glory, reverence and joy- along with our massive efforts would be melded together into something so great and complete, that words would fail to describe the moment. I realized last night, when I performed the piece for the first time, everything he said was true....

In the Mahler Second, the choir only sings in the finale. Before then there's a slow and tension filled buildup comprised of four movements. An English horn solo starts all alone and then a trombone choral plays on top. Suddenly, an off-stage trumpet trio begins. Alone, they fill back stage with their cadence and then slowly taper off. The violins tremolo so softly that no one in the audience even recalls when they began. On top, a flute and piccolo whips out bird-like 32nd notes and then a horn and a timpani join in. This all builds and builds with the violins getting louder and then suddenly the volume drops. So quietly, that our sounds are almost just a sensation, the choir comes in a capella singing in German:

"Rise again, yes rise again
wilt thou, my dust
when rest is over
When life immortal,
then life eternal
He thee will give in realms"

The soloists add on top of our textures as one by one, each orchestra section joins in. The sound is so rich and voluptuous at this point, you feel as if you could cut it with a knife.

"With love enduring, will I be soaring to the light.
On pinions faith for me created,
Will I be far soaring, soaring
Will I be soaring"

And as we soar we become louder, brassier and brighter. I could feel myself drawing energy from everyone around me and at the same time I was giving all of myself self the the music and everyone else. We were sharing everything with each other. All of our instruments started to play to their full volume and ability. The basses behind me sang so well in tune and loud that I could hear an angel of a harmonic wailing two octaves above them. I felt like swooning-- this sensation was so amazing to me. The organ began to hit heavy chords on the down beat and the strings were going ballistic. We belted in heavy notes:
"Rise again
Yes, rise again
Wilt though, my heart
In moments blest. . .
To God, To God
Shall thee be bearing!"

And everything clanged and soared and the beads of sweat were running off of everyone's face. So beautiful it was! At the very end, I just stood there in awe. The audiences applause almost hurt my ears....

Unfortunately, the Choral Arts Society version is not available for purchase, but there's a live recording with Seiji Ozawa conducting the Saito Kinen Orchestra that's phenominal. (It's also best heard with earphones or a good stereo system) With the audience reaction at the end, you would have thought it was a rock concert. This CD can be purchased at

If you happen to be in the Austin, TX area, do please check out a performance by CAS if you get a chance. Even though this is a non-professional ensemble, the quality is top notch. Their next performance is:

Saturday, April 29, 2006 at 8p.m.
Bates Recital Hall, UT School of Music

Choral Works of Johannes Brahms
Geistliches Lied, op. 30
Schaffe in mir, Gott, ein rein Herz, op. 29
Gesänge, op. 17
Liebeslieder Walzer, op. 52
Neue-Liebeslieder Walzer, op 65
Fünf Lieder, op. 41
“Vier Abendlieder”—Abendständchen, Der Abend, Waldesnacht, Rote Abendwolken

If this is all a little too heavy for you, check out: "Little Bunny Hop Hop Hop" from Four Folk Song Upsettings by PDQ Bach. It has nothing to do with easter, but it is a song about a bunny.

If you don't know who PDQ Bach is, he's essentially the classical music equivalent of Weird Al and wickedly witty. I'll probably be showcasing this man's works (he's also known as Professor Peter Shickele...and yes, he really is a professor) frequently on here as he's one of my favorite composers/parody artists. Another good one is "Jesus Shaves" by David Sedaris. It's such a classic by now, it needs no introduction.

Happy Easter everyone!


Anonymous heavy metal mom said...

First off, spotting anyone in that picture is impossible!!
I really enjoyed this post. It reminded me of how much I loved being in CAS, and even though that's over, I did get a really good friend out of it.

Maybe if I get a wild 'hare' I could try to hoppity hop back over there and try out for Morrow again with PDQ's bunny song!!! I love the octave jumps!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006  
Anonymous cchang said...

I know. Bunny Hop Hop Hop is actually a techincally difficult song to sing. Ha!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006  
Anonymous cchang said...

I forgot to mention that you're standing right next to me in the pic, remember?

Tuesday, April 18, 2006  
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Tuesday, March 06, 2007  

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