Remember the Titans

Remember the Titans

by guest blogger Mandy Meisner

As the first tease of spring arrived with much anticipation, a friend and I spent the evening of March 16 at Orchestra Hall for a night of Weill and Mahler.

Project Opera greets us in the lobby, where a young soprano sings alone like a nightingale, perched before a flock of fellow songbirds. We gather in admiration, our hats and coats still on. It is a perfect prelude before we make our way to our seats.

Project Opera performing in the Orchestra Hall lobby.

The wind orchestra for Kurt Weill’s Violin Concerto looks small on stage, bringing a sense of intimacy. Erin Keefe walks out gracefully, her deep aqua coat flutters behind, complementing her auburn hair. The opening phrases weave intricately in and out from one another as the violin starts out very rhythmically and with determination. The music picks up speed, feeling frantic and urgent while the horn calls in ominous foreboding. The dark chaos gives way to lovely moments of vulnerability and reflection. We are overcome by the passion, adaptability and stamina demonstrated as the piece continues. We can see several hairs from her bow break free; they sway and punctuate as she plays to the interesting and turbulent end.

Concertmaster Erin Keefe at center stage in Weill’s Violin Concerto.

As the musicians enter the stage for Mahler’s Titan Symphony, we know it will be powerful. The second violins and cellos have swapped their usual places. Unexpectedly, there is more than the usual complement of trombones, but there are fewer trumpets. We quickly find out why when the symphony begins, wonderfully lush and mellow, as muted trumpets sound from afar in majestic call—from offstage. The effect is curious. The music feels like a leisurely ride on horseback, with a pastoral backdrop of rolling hills and birdsong. It works up into a climactic wash of sound, only to recede and grow again, we all sigh and hold our breath in wonder and gratitude.

From left to right: Clarinetist Timothy Zavadil, Associate Principal Clarinet David Pharris, Principal Clarinet Gabriel Campos Zamora and Principal Bassoon Fei Xie performing Mahler’s First Symphony.

The second movement starts with much energy, evolving into gooey phrases that stretch and arc before us, ending in joyful strength.

The third movement throbs with the heartbeat of the timpani as somber voices join in. It feels dark and mocking, and somehow familiar, though we don’t know why. It changes to the lilting sway of a dance, dying in near silence.

The final movement is frenzied disarray. It resolves to sweet, long phrases of melancholy, diminishing to mere whispers of sound, only to jump up in abrupt disbelief once again. The far-off, majestic horns call out, reminding us of more peaceful times. But this peaceful memory is not where we land; instead the music builds to an emotionally charged end that leaves our eyes shining.

The symphony speaks to this audience with raw emotion. We go absolutely wild, jumping to our feet, clapping furiously and shouting our adoration as if the musicians were rock stars.

Afterwards, we compose ourselves. We stand in a long line that snakes through the lobby, dreamily holding Mahler Sixth Symphony CDs to be signed by Music Director Osmo Vänskä.

Music Director Osmo Vänskä and Concertmaster Erin Keefe signing CDs for audience members. All photos with this story are by Greg Helgeson.

The anticipation of spring is replaced by the aftermath of incredible beauty.

Mandy Meisner

Twin Cities-based Mandy Meisner considers being a guest blogger for the Minnesota Orchestra a dream gig—followed closely by blogging about really good food. A graduate of the Perpich Center for Arts Education, she has been writing for the Orchestra since 2016. She is also a regular blogger on Fridley Patch and is published by several national syndicates. Above all, she believes in the power of stories and that we all have important ones to tell.