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Mahler’s 9th symphony grabs DPO audience

First, a confession.  I could not attend the Philharmonic concerts last weekend.  I was in New York City playing super poppy for my marvelous grandson, Oliver David.  

Thanks to the kindness of Maestro Neal Gittleman and the artists of the Dayton Philharmonic, I attended a nearly private concert, a rehearsal, of this magnificent work. Reviewers are not supposed to cover rehearsals.  When the performance is so heavenly, so near perfection of sound and spirit, it makes little difference what it is called.  I call it a privilege, not a rehearsal.

The works of German composer/conductor Gustav Mahler are worlds of their own. The nine symphonies, for example, are like our Solar System.  Each is different, full of powerful expression and laced with not well-hidden quotes from his own songs, folk music and imaginary discourses.  

Rarely played until Leonard Bernstein became their advocate and promulgator, they are now in the mainstream of great orchestras.  They have also entered the consciousness of music lovers the world over.  Once Gustav Mahler grabs you, you are in his thrall.  

Symphonies which once seemed to be too big to play and to hear are, while not “bite sized,” within the zone of the listener’s grasp.  His 8th Symphony has the title Symphony of a Thousand. It requires in its choruses, choirs and instrumental parts, nearly that many to perform it.  

The Ninth symphony is Mahler’s final opus in this form.  Lore makes a 9th a jinx. Beethoven and Schubert both died while working on their 10th symphonies.  Mahler was aware that his heart disease made his own demise imminent.  Yet, he poured his soul into this all-encompassing work.

We could focus on Mahler’s tragic life.  His personal crises of identity, domestic life, disease and acceptance gave him little peace and satisfaction.  He endured it all with suffering and resignation.  His conducting career was marked with strife both in Vienna and for three years in New York.  His wife, the beauteous and unfaithful Alma, gave him little comfort.  His music – what did it do to him?  I feel that it drained him and defied him.

I prefer to focus my response to his 9th on what it does for us, for me, for musicians and for the art and music-loving world.   My first response is great pride and satisfaction.  To hear this symphony, to have heard so many other Mahler symphonies played to such a level by our own orchestra, makes my pride justifiable.  
Maestro Neal and the artists of the Philharmonic use their talents and love of music to rise to levels that rival any orchestra.  They work together - conductor, principals, artists - to achieve such high levels of understanding and performance.

The demands of the symphony fall upon every musician.  The four movements, played without pause for their 80 minute length, cover every part of the spectrum of tempo, mood, dynamics, and interpretation.  This is a work which must be seen as well as heard.  Recorded performances lose so many of the nuances.  There are hidden themes and gradations, combinations of sound challenging the ear and the performer.  

Each section was an all-encompassing experience.  There is so much to learn from the effects of each moment of the music.  The horns met every challenge; the woodwinds, strings, percussion sang mightily and with whispers.  There were dances, powerful tuttis, and cracking whistles and creaks which added richness and evoked great satisfaction.  

Three of the movements merely fade away.  The finale was full of seeming endings, fading into silence only to return and fade again.  Reluctantly, the final bars released our souls now firmly in the grasp of Gustav Mahler, Neal Gittleman and the great artists of the Dayton Philharmonic.  

Stiver’s Chamber Exploration Series

Moving from a stage packed with musicians to an intimate chamber orchestra was next on the Philharmonic’s schedule. The Chamber Exploration Series, generously hosted by Chuck and Patty Demirjian, is such a delight.  The two concerts, evening and morning, breathe freshness into our rich musical atmosphere.

This concert featured one of Dayton’s many success stories. It is the success of Stivers School for the Arts’ enlightened program, the support of the community for a gifted prodigy a charming and talented young man destined to be a star.

Flutist Brandon George was identified by his mentors at Stivers very early.  I remember hearing this handsome youngster, still in grade school, playing with complete mastery of his difficult instrument.  With the support of the entire community and his talent, he has graduated from Oberlin and is presently in graduate studies at the Manhattan School of Music.

Maestro Neal Gittleman invited Brandon to be the featured soloist in Mozart’s Concerto for Flute No. 1.  A season ago, the companion concerto, No. 2, was played with the Philharmonic by none other than James Galway.

The work, pure musical delight, was played by Brandon and the Philharmonic artists with élan and joy.  Bright, airy and full of challenging nuances, all was delivered in a real gift package for the audience.  As no surprise, the minions of Stivers students in attendance led the standing ovation.

The concert opened with Beethoven’s Prometheus Overture and closed with Haydn’s fabulous Drum Roll Symphony.  The symphony has an interesting personal history for me.  Nearly 60 years ago our suite at Haverford College was selecting our “theme LP record.”  The contest emerged with the Drum Roll and Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony as finalists.

Much to Haydn’s chagrin, the Italian won the coveted selection.  I can assure you that if we had heard the Philharmonic’s version, Haydn would have been the champion.  

The special joy of the Philharmonic musicians transposed easily from the massive Mahler to the petite Haydn.  Such artistry, we are so fortunate.

Cebulash exhibit at Link Gallery

Link Gallery, 519 East Fifth St.., located in The Oregon Arts District, presents the work of Glen Cebulash and Rachel Stanzione. Glen Cebulash and Rachel Stanzione are placing their work together in this husband-and-wife exhibit for the first time.  Their work addresses the human form in a variety of mediums, including painting, sculpture and collage.

Gallery go-ers can board the Wright Flyer Trolley for free rides along Fifth Street, taking participants to all of the OAD galleries and to other art venues in downtown Dayton. Dates: March 6 – 28.

Artist Talk-Wine Reception: Saturday, March 21, 6:30 p.m., talk begins at 7 p.m.

Watercolor and oil exhibit at Gallery Saint John

“Moments in Time” is an exhibit of recent (and a few other) works of watercolor and oil paintings by Charles P. Wanda, SM., at Gallery Saint John. The show runs through April 14.  Gallery Hours are Noon – 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.

“I have always found that time is fascinating,” says Bro. Charles “especially when I realize that what is happening right now is no longer the same in relation to time that has been and to time that has yet come. I have been intrigued by the fact that no matter what I try to present, it always comes down to an instant when I saw a particular scene or event occurring. When the Impressionists attempted to capture light as it affected their subjects they realized that as time went on the light was continually changing from moment to moment from sunrise to sunset.  Even though many things we look at are stationary the moment we see it, that moment is gone as another occurs. Our ways of looking can vary as our perceptions change along with our thoughts about what we see.”

For more information on Gallery Saint John visit the website at:

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March 17, 2009
Volume 18, No. 11

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