What does one take away from four performances of Mahler's Symphony no. 9?
Some initial observations:
The audience on Thursday night was one of the most rapt, attentive audiences that I have encountered in over thirty years of performing. On stage, we could hear a pin drop, from beginning to end. This is rare, for in a large crowd, there is inevitably one poor soul who has brought with him or her a ticklish throat, or a partner who'd rather be home watching the Red Sox lose to the Angels, or taking a nice nap (which comes on anyway, given the ideal conditions for such: a cozy chair in a dark concert hall.)
But on Thursday, October 8, the Hartford Symphony was treated to an audience that held its collective breath for ninety minutes - - - I don't remember anyone coughing, not even in between the movements!
Thursday night was our first complete run through of the symphony. Surprised? Well, there are decisions a conductor must make with the limited time at hand, and by Wednesday night's dress rehearsal, we had accomplished a great deal on the first three movements, but there was still work to be done on the final Adagio. I did this on purpose, knowing that the Adagio was technically the easiest, but emotionally the most taxing. When you run a marathon (as our assistant principal violist, Sharon Dennison did on Saturday morning, and who did not look any worse for wear at that evening's performance), you must pace yourself.
As the Adagio runs nearly thirty minutes, I did not want to run the risk of playing the symphony in order and possibly run out of time at the end, so I began the dress rehearsal with the final movement, then proceeded through the other three movements before we called it a night.
So Thursday night's concert was the first real play-through of the entire work, in movement order. That's why we often call the first of several performances a 'dress rehearsal' for the public. In the opening movement, we were a little tight, a bit on edge. After that we were fine. And the audience, in the closing four and a half minutes of the symphony, was just unbelievable. After the violas uttered the final four notes, I could have held the silence forever, and no one would have minded.