Marin Alsop on Mahler's Fifth

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Gary
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Marin Alsop on Mahler's Fifth

Post by Gary » Fri Jan 26, 2007 2:47 am

Mahler's Fifth Symphony: The Everest of Music
by Marin Alsop

I've never aspired to climb Mount Everest, but I can imagine the nervous anticipation of the climber who stands looking upward at the task ahead. Regardless of preparation, training, desire or zeal, it's impossible to know exactly how the climb will go.

That's exactly the sensation I have when I walk onto the stage to conduct Gustav Mahler's Fifth Symphony. It's a large-scale journey, guaranteed to provide surprises and new discoveries along the way.

Even as a young man, Mahler was after the big picture. When other twentysomethings might have been writing lighthearted music, Mahler was trying to solve the riddles of the universe through his epic symphonies. They were vehicles for him to express his beliefs and pose questions.

For me, Mahler's symphonies warrant Jungian or Freudian dissection. The Fifth Symphony employs huge orchestral forces, but the fact that it begins with a single individual voice seems almost apocryphal to me.

The opening trumpet fanfare consists of a similar rhythmic theme, as in Beethoven's Fifth Symphony: It shifts from repose to overt rage in a matter of seconds. The burden of this opening message, on a technical and theoretical level, is great. I try to feel as though I am seated next to the solo trumpeter, breathing the exact same air, as we begin our epic journey.

After this opening outburst, dark clouds linger in the guise of a funeral march — depressing, inevitable. Mahler's obsession with death surfaces early in this symphony. But the journey will transcend that obsession, in large part, because Mahler has fallen in love.

The first two movements explore this struggle between darkness and light with no resolution. The third is a miniature journey unto itself, a kind of commentary by Mahler on popular culture past, present and future. For a conductor and the orchestra musicians, it's extremely challenging on many levels: It's music about excess, yet focused through the lens of a traditional, conservative German dance, the landler. Highlighting that excess without letting it slip over the edge into parody is one of many challenges along the way.

The fourth movement, the "Adagietto," is an intimate oasis, a glorious escape from the throes of excess in the previous movement. Scored for only strings and solo harp, this is Mahler's love letter to his new bride, Alma. But the music is never free from angst. There's a quote from Wagner's tragic "Tristan and Isolde" along the way, but in the end, Mahler's heartfelt desire wins out.

This movement leads seamlessly to the Finale, with its playful opening pastoral tunes. Mahler explores the natural world here, but he also summarizes our journey with references to where we've traveled so far. Since nothing is simple in Mahler, there are a few trademark detours along the way, leading to the sunny summit.

Just like the Everest climb, pacing is critical to the outcome. My goal is to give our journey a sense of structure, arrival and resolution. Mahler loves conflict, contrast, obsession and excess. But I always have to temper and monitor the indulgence so that it doesn't become self-indulgence. I have to feel as one with the musicians, and be vigilant about the path we navigate together. That will contribute to a successful outcome.

Tackling Mahler's Fifth Symphony requires an expert team, and working with the musicians of the London Symphony Orchestra on such a monumental piece is like a dream come true. They are phenomenal individual stars, yet willing to work together selflessly. The perfect climbing team for our journey!

This year, Marin Alsop became music director of the Baltimore Symphony, making her the first woman to head a major American orchestra. She was named a 2005 MacArthur Fellow, the first conductor ever to receive the award.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/stor ... Id=6926092

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Post by Ralph » Fri Jan 26, 2007 8:18 am

Interesting. I wonder if she will add to the glut of Mahler 5th recordings. Probably ineivtable that she will.
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BorisG

Post by BorisG » Fri Jan 26, 2007 2:17 pm

Ralph wrote:Interesting. I wonder if she will add to the glut of Mahler 5th recordings. Probably ineivtable that she will.
I think her less mainstream recordings are more convincing with less competition. Within Naxos she may improve on some of their warhorses. Though I've not heard her Brahms, the reviews I've read seem to support that. One or two reviewers may have got carried away and cast aside Brahms big boys like Klemperer, Furtwangler, Walter, Karajan. I wonder, too, how her Mahler 5 would fare against Wit, Bernstein, Chailly, Karajan, Abbado?

What is the Naxos marketing strength for Alsop? Is it the music, or that she is female?

Gregory Kleyn

Post by Gregory Kleyn » Fri Jan 26, 2007 2:21 pm

BorisG wrote:
Ralph wrote:Interesting. I wonder if she will add to the glut of Mahler 5th recordings. Probably ineivtable that she will.

What is the Naxos marketing strength for Alsop? Is it the music, or that she is female?
$6.99

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Post by Ralph » Fri Jan 26, 2007 2:34 pm

Gregory Kleyn wrote:
BorisG wrote:
Ralph wrote:Interesting. I wonder if she will add to the glut of Mahler 5th recordings. Probably ineivtable that she will.

What is the Naxos marketing strength for Alsop? Is it the music, or that she is female?
$6.99
*****

Not fair, old chap. Some of Alsop's NAXOS discs are excellent performances.
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Post by Corlyss_D » Fri Jan 26, 2007 2:45 pm

Ralph wrote:glut of Mahler 5th recordings.
Hard to believe how different it is now from the early 60s when Mahler wasn't that common.
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Gregory Kleyn

Post by Gregory Kleyn » Fri Jan 26, 2007 2:59 pm

Ralph wrote:
Gregory Kleyn wrote:
BorisG wrote:
Ralph wrote:Interesting. I wonder if she will add to the glut of Mahler 5th recordings. Probably ineivtable that she will.

What is the Naxos marketing strength for Alsop? Is it the music, or that she is female?
$6.99
*****

Not fair, old chap. Some of Alsop's NAXOS discs are excellent performances.
I agree, and like Alsop, - even hugged her backstage on one occasion and smelled her perfume (and a little sweat). Am also on record as predicting her eventual ascension to the directorship of the NYPO. Nonetheless, Naxos' primary marketing strength regardless of the performers will always be price. Good as I've discovered Alsop's Barber and Brahms recordings to be, I'd most certainly have passed them by at $16.99.

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Post by Nashvillebill » Fri Jan 26, 2007 3:16 pm

What is the Naxos marketing strength for Alsop? Is it the music, or that she is female?
The fact that Marin is a woman hasn't played much into the marketing of her latest releases from Naxos. I think her talent and abilities were probably noticed early on more so because of her gender but I would guage that most people recognize her more for her conducting ability vs. her gender. Plus the fact that she just hooked up with the Baltimore SO doesn't hurt her ability to sell cds!

the latest review of her Brahms 3 on classics today is a good indicator of her talent.
http://www.classicstoday.com/review.asp?ReviewNum=10706

As Far as her releasing a Mahler 5, I'm not aware of anything in the comming months but it could be possible later this year.

BorisG

Post by BorisG » Fri Jan 26, 2007 5:19 pm

Gregory Kleyn wrote:
Ralph wrote:
Gregory Kleyn wrote:
BorisG wrote:
Ralph wrote:Interesting. I wonder if she will add to the glut of Mahler 5th recordings. Probably ineivtable that she will.

What is the Naxos marketing strength for Alsop? Is it the music, or that she is female?
$6.99
*****

Not fair, old chap. Some of Alsop's NAXOS discs are excellent performances.
I agree, and like Alsop, - even hugged her backstage on one occasion and smelled her perfume (and a little sweat). Am also on record as predicting her eventual ascension to the directorship of the NYPO. Nonetheless, Naxos' primary marketing strength regardless of the performers will always be price. Good as I've discovered Alsop's Barber and Brahms recordings to be, I'd most certainly have passed them by at $16.99.
Although they prettied her up for the Brahms 3 cover, I think I'd still pass on a hug.

I may rethink your NYPO prediction when Hillary becomes President of The United States of America. Too, if you have a black conductor in mind for a similar rated orchestra, I will consider similarly for Obama, attaining the Presidency or Vice-Presidency.

Alsop's Barber series is an important addition to the catalogue. Many felt that way beforehand, including myself. It could have sold at a higher price and done well, but being in the Naxos fold, it was dictated otherwise. I think Naxos may be trying to do too much with this artist.

Lastly, Naxos price has inched from the superbudget to budget category ($8.99 SRP), so their marketing of price isn't as advantageous as it once was, especially with additional competition and retailers such as Amazon Marketplace.

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Post by Gary » Fri Jan 26, 2007 6:31 pm

Gregory Kleyn wrote:Good as I've discovered Alsop's Barber and Brahms recordings to be, I'd most certainly have passed them by at $16.99.
I rarely shell out $16.99 for a single CD of any music nowadays.

I've only heard parts of her Brahms' First and thought it was as good as any by current conductors.

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Post by Hondo » Tue Jan 30, 2007 12:34 pm

I had the opportunity to hear Marin Alsop conduct on numerous occasions when she was music director of the Colorado Symphony. I found her performances of a very diverse repretoire to be outstanding! Baltimore was very fortunate to get her. There is no doubt in my mind that she will become the conductor of one of the top five US orchestras sometime in the next ten years.

Marin was very concerned initially about recording for Naxos. She felt that recording for a bargain basement label was going to diminish her stature as a serious musician. Her agent rightfully told her that labels such as Naxos and Arte Nova is where the classical music action will be in the future. How right he was! Naxos typically releases ten or twelve classical recordings each month to BMG's and Sony's 2 or 3. As for quality, recordings by both Naxos and Arte Nova have received numerous awards from publications such as Gramophone and BBC Music. We probably don't need another Mahler 5th, but there are plenty of other works that would benefit from Marin's wonderful musicianship.

Gabe

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Post by rogch » Tue Jan 30, 2007 2:13 pm

Ralph wrote:Interesting. I wonder if she will add to the glut of Mahler 5th recordings. Probably ineivtable that she will.
I would if i were her. It seems almost impossible these days to make a Mahler recording without receiving some kind of award or at least become "editor's choice" or something like that.
Roger Christensen

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Post by karlhenning » Tue Jan 30, 2007 2:22 pm

Ralph wrote:Interesting. I wonder if she will add to the glut of Mahler 5th recordings. Probably ineivtable that she will.
I suppose; she's already added to the glut of Brahms symphony recordings :-)

Cheers,
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Post by karlhenning » Tue Jan 30, 2007 2:40 pm

BorisG wrote:Alsop's Barber series is an important addition to the catalogue.
Yes!

I just don't see the need for Another Mahler Fifth.

Then again, I am apt to think that there are already more complete Beethoven symphony sets than the world strictly needs.

Cheers,
~Karl
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Marc
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Post by Marc » Tue Jan 30, 2007 4:07 pm

karlhenning wrote:
BorisG wrote:I just don't see the need for Another Mahler Fifth.
Yes. This growing forest of Mahler productions is almost an uncontrolled growth. And Naxos already has a Mahler Fifth with Antoni Wit, and last year another one with James DePreist was released. For the 'old' Naxos policy that would be enough. Their strength used to be: just one recording of a piece, which meant that their catalogue could grow much faster, with lots of lesser known and recorded composers and works. They only added another release when they thought that the quality of the first recording wasn't that good. (And some time ago they also decided to rerelease historic recordings.)

And now we'd have to expect another Mahler 5? Have they changed marketing tactics?

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Post by moldyoldie » Tue Jan 30, 2007 4:13 pm

Marc wrote:And now we'd have to expect another Mahler 5? Have they changed marketing tactics?
Methinks it's less about Mahler (or anyone else) and more about Alsop. :wink:

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Post by Stonebraker » Tue Jan 30, 2007 6:28 pm

:)

I'm a lucky one, I live in Montgomery county Maryland, and we have the extreme pleasure of having Maestro Alsop as the conductor of the BSO. Mahler's 5 is probably one of my favorite symphonies of all time, and I would be overjoyed if she would add this to the next concert season.

On a sidenote, about two weeks ago we had the opportunity to see Alsop and the BSO, along with members from the Peabody Orchestra, perform Strauss' Alpine Symphony, as well as Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. I was able to drag my parents to the event (read: I'm 20, and my parents paid for the tickets), and they walked away perhaps more inspired than me.
Paul Stonebraker - Promoting orchestral music since '06

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