Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.


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The comfort of Mahler more than 100 years after his death

Saturday evening found my husband and I in Ann Arbor with my Aunt listening to Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 in D major performed by the Ann Arbor Symphony.

I was a bit intimidated by the prospect of listening to the long symphony, over an hour and twenty minutes, with no intermission and no chance to change gears if it wasn’t something I enjoyed. I thought longingly of the concert last month filled with Dvorak and Gershwin. But I figured this one would be good for me.

And it was – in an unexpected way.

You see Saturday morning was the horrific mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. Throughout the day I watched updates and wondered, again, how such things continue to happen in our country.

By Saturday evening I was overwhelmingly sad.

Music Director Arie Lipsky gave his typical lecture prior the the concert, explaining bits and pieces of the four movements, giving us a better understanding of the composer’s life and this particular piece. It’s thought to be Mahler’s goodbye, perhaps a foreshadowing of his fatal heart ailment, but, Maestro Lipsky said, the final interpretation of the meaning behind the music would be up to the performers, and ultimately us, the listening audience.

And there he paused, stared down at his score, then looked up with pain in his eyes and quietly dedicated the evening’s performance to the murdered members of the Squirrel Hill Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

My own eyes filled with tears. And as we settled into our seats to hear the music I wondered what my interpretation would be. What would I hear in this long piece on this, such a sad day?

And, it turns out, for me the music was intertwined in the events of the day.

As someone who has experienced the unexpected news about a violent death of a family member, all I could hear in this music was the raw emotion of the families left behind on this horrible Saturday morning. It was as if the music was describing the road each of them will be traveling as they move through their grief in the days and years ahead.

The first movement, Andante comodo, started out innocently, peacefully, much like the lives of the parishioners themselves as they settled into the service, like those people still in traffic on their way to meet friends and family as they probably did every weekend. But about two minutes into the piece there came a foreboding feeling.

Something was wrong.

At 5:45 into the music I could hear the news being spread, tension built, shock, disbelief and confusion were all being felt. The rest of the movement took me through the roller coaster of those first moments, hours and days after the event, the music filled with layers of rage and grief followed by bits of sweet memories and longing, always overcome with the deep swells of pain and sorrow.

The second movement, Im Tempo eines, represented, for me, a time in the future when family members have given themselves permission to be happy again. It started out with a lighthearted, though clumsy, dance. The family was, rightly so, a bit rusty in their happiness. But soon enough the music began to change tempo, to speed up and become a bit manic, as the nightmare of reality interrupts even the simple joy of dance.

The third movement, Rondo-Burleske, is all about the chaos, rage, and disbelief inherent in grief with an almost nightmarish circus motif. It was loud and fast from the very first notes, allowing for no contemplation, only emotion. And the interweaving themes kept pounding at our emotions until the abrupt end which forced a collective gasp from wide-eyed audience members.

There was a longer pause, then, between the third and fourth movement, Adagio, as the musicians seemed to collect themselves, to adjust their mindset from the frenetic third to the quiet resolution of this last movement.

And here, in the fourth, was where my tears fell again. For it was here that I felt the resignation and acceptance, the finality of the loss. The soft tones were contemplative, but there was a hint of joy too, hidden between the layers of deep pain, in the pools of grief.

The joy came from finally realizing that our loved ones, lost to violence, are safe now. And though it’s hard, so very hard, not to have them here with us, it became clear, as the last distant notes faded into the night air, that they are truly and forever home.

I felt a bit silly as I surreptitiously wiped the tears from my cheeks, but I noticed a few others doing the same. And then I stood, along with the rest of the house, to applaud my appreciation

So that’s my interpretation of Mahler’s ninth, heard on this particular difficult day in the history of our country.

If you would like to hear some of this Mahler piece, but don’t have over an hour to devote, I recommend listening to a few minutes of each of the first three movements and then to the entire fourth movement.

I trust Mahler will bring you a similar feeling of hope and peace.


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Magic

Saturday night was the Ann Arbor Symphony’s first concert of the new season. If you weren’t there you missed something pretty special.

Beautiful music in a beautiful venue.

It started out with the premiere playing of Ann Arbor Saturday, by composer William Bolcom. The piece was commissioned for the symphony and depicted Ann Arbor on a football game day, from the initial flow of cars coming into the quiet town to the intense game itself, with the University of Michigan finally coming out on top. Of course.

Along the way it pays homage to other universities with bits of their fight songs woven into the main themes. The audience, most staunch supporters of University of Michigan football got all the jokes and nuances. Being a Michigan State graduate myself, I guessed at some of them, but thoroughly enjoyed the music.

And we heard Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 (in honor of the symphony’s 90 anniversary), “From the New World.” It was accompanied by visuals, shown on a huge screen hanging above the musicians, of landscape photographs and videos depicting the natural beauty of this country.

There are four movements. My favorite, musically, is movement number two, the Largo. The spiritual “Going Home” was adapted from this movement and every time I hear it I get teary thinking about my parents and wishing they were coming home even though I know they are, now, truly home.

At the end of the piece there was a long moment of silence as the maestro and his symphony orchestra shared that connection of a piece well done. Then they stirred and the audience stood and applauded to acknowledge the beauty of the entire experience.

But the biggest, most magical moments of the evening occurred during Aaron Diehl‘s performance of two Gershwin pieces, I Got Rhythm” Variations and Rhapsody in Blue. He’s a jazz pianist who improvised during the cadenzas, those parts of the music where only the piano played. Maestro Lipsky said, during the lecture prior to the performance, that his blood pressure was higher than normal during rehearsals of this piece because “I have no idea when or how Aaron is going to come out of the cadenzas. Each rehearsal has been different.” And as the music unfurled above us, rollicking, bouncing off the walls and ceiling of Hill Auditorium, you could see both Lipsky and members of the orchestra listening intently, waiting for the cue to come back in as Diehl’s fingers flew over the piano keys.

I was lucky enough to have a seat in the hall where I could see the artist’s face as well as his hands. He exuded pure, sweet joy that manifested itself into magic that flowed from his fingers and into all our hearts. His hands moved so fast it’s a wonder that, by the end of Rhapsody, the keys hadn’t all but melted. And speaking of Rhapsody – be still my heart – the clarinet in the beginning of the piece almost made me swoon.

Both pieces were extraordinary. And as the second one was coming to an end you could feel the anticipation building in the audience. We were on our feet cheering before he lifted his hands from the keyboard, before the last note had a chance to fade. The sound from the audience exploded with a noise so loud I’m surprised we didn’t make the evening news. You’d have thought someone had just kicked the winning field goal in a championship football game.

So I guess Ann Arbor won twice yesterday. The football team did, in fact, win their game. And music lovers who were lucky enough to be sitting in Hill Auditorium won too. Thanks Ann Arbor Symphony, for giving us, yet again, a wonderful gift.

I haven’t stopped smiling.

A little night glow.


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“Happy Birthday Wolfie”

Yesterday was Wolfgang Mozart’s 262nd birthday, and what better way to celebrate than to spend an evening with the Ann Arbor Symphony enjoying their Mozart Birthday Bash.

Did you know Wolfgang wrote his Symphony No. 1 at the ripe old age of eight? And that Mozart had a favorite pattern of notes, three notes rising, the fourth falling, which were included in both his first symphony, written as a child, and his last, Symphony No. 41, a symphony he probably never heard performed before his death at age 35?

I didn’t know any of that either.

Last night we learned all that and were privileged to hear both Symphony No. 1 as well as Symphony No. 41. And though you could clearly hear his childlike interpretation of music in the first, it was much more intricate that I could have imaged at age eight.

And Symphony No. 41? The fourth movement was my favorite, the most intense, the most intertwined, the most triumphant. It’s eight and a half minutes long. Get a cup of tea or coffee and settle back to listen, it will be time well spent. There’s so much going on in this movement, let it take you where it will.

Now, take a moment to listen to the first notes of Symphony No. 1. The juxtaposition between that first symphony and the very last symphony movement he ever wrote was breathtaking. Isn’t it amazing what he created within his short lifetime?

And on top of all that, the evening’s guest soloist, Chad Burrow, performed Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A Major. On a basset clarinet. Be still my heart.

All in all it was a special evening for this clarinetist.

As I sat listening to the symphony building up to the final moments, the music swelling, the entire hall entranced, I gazed up, lost in the music, and wondered. On this birthday was Mozart’s music being played all across the world? Were there concert halls and high school auditoriums and living room stereos playing Mozart in celebration? And was he listening from somewhere, tapping his toe, smiling a bit wistfully, happy to hear his work, glad not to be forgotten?

I like to think he was.

So, as Maestro Lipsky said last night – Happy Birthday Wolfie. Thank you for your gift to us all. I hope you enjoyed the Ann Arbor Symphony’s gift to you.

I know we did.

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Let the music begin

I’m clinging to summer, not willing to let it go — hanging on with both hands to it’s ankle as it drags me wearily toward the exit.

Still…

Saturday night I was privileged to attend the first concert of the Ann Arbor Symphony’s 2016/2017 season. It’s time for music again, in conjunction with the arrival of fall. It reminded me, as I was sitting at Hill Auditorium, that there are exciting aspects to the end of summer. That, in fact, it’s less about something ending than it is about something beginning.

Ready to begin!

Ready to begin!

The music Saturday night was fun and exciting, even joyful as befits the beginning of something wonderful. It started, as all Ann Arbor Symphony season opening concerts do, with our national anthem. There’s something about an auditorium filled with musically inclined people, all singing their anthem loudly and enthusiastically, accompanied by a first class musical unit, that makes you appreciate just how lucky we all are to be living in this country. And how lucky I was to be there to hear it.

The first piece of the evening was Festive Overture Op 96 by Shostakovich. I know, I know, many of you don’t like the music of Shostakovich. But listen to a little of this. It was written the year after Stalin died when the composer could finally express his joy. Listen to the first minute of this wonderful piece of music, and at the 45 second mark note the clarinet work. Amazing. Just another reason why I enjoyed this piece so much.

The second piece of the evening was Der Rosenkavalier Suite by Strauss. Another joyful beginning to a piece, with strong French Horns and full orchestration.

And then it was time to hear the guest soloist, Jon Kimura Parker on piano performing Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major by Brahms. He talked to members of the audience prior to the concert, explaining the piece and talking about what it was like to play it. He told us how different it was from other concertos, in that the slow movement wasn’t second, and the fourth and last movement wasn’t necessarily the triumphant ending with brass, that in fact the trumpets had nothing to do in the piece after movement number two! The explanation made listening to the work even more fun.

I had thought the opening piece by Shostakovich would be my favorite of the evening, but it turns out that the fourth movement of the Brahms was my favorite. It starts out so light, almost the bouncy dance of a small child. But then, just about one minute into the movement the orchestra begins to swell like gentle waves at the ocean. The piano comes back in dancing, the waves continue to pull.

And so I began to see a child dancing on a beach, the waves calling, the child dancing faster, the waves always just beyond the toes of the dancing child. So it goes, the dancing piano, the frolicking orchestra. Each playing off the other, until, in the last seconds the piano and the orchestra are joyfully dancing at the ocean’s edge together.

Lights...action!

Lights…action!

And that’s what this concert was all about. Joy. Anticipatory joy for the autumn season approaching, for the music season now upon us and reminiscent joy for the wonderful summer just experienced. What better way to experience the transition from summer to fall than to spend an evening listening to such wonderful music.

And I can tell you that it sure took the sting out of having to say goodbye to summer.

Thanks Aunt Becky!

Thanks Aunt Becky!