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Open Ears Music Series
Blackout, Euphoria Highlight LPO's Presentation of Mahler's Symphony No. 3
by Joe Shriner
On Thursday evening, as the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra thundered into the final ominous seconds of the third movement of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 3, the lights at First Baptist Church, New Orleans began to fade. One by one, the lights then died. By the time the New Orleans Children's Chorus had gathered themselves onto the stage to participate in the second half, there was a complete blackout in the Lakeview church.
A brief lull ensued, as audiences in the darkened pews pondered whether this was done intentionally. After all, the following movement, which is unsettling in any light, would begin with the soloist imploring: “O Man! Take heed! What says the deep midnight?”
Never a group for such gimmicks, the orchestra appeared to be just as confounded as the crowd. As the seconds progressed, the lights of cell phones and a growing murmur dappled and rippled through the pitch-black church. After a minute, the familiar voice of conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto pierced through the crowd’s speculations. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he announced in his distinct Mexican accent, “we are phoning Entergy. This only seems to happen during the Super Bowl and Mahler.”
The audience erupted in laughter and ovations, and an impromptu 30-minute intermission began.
Despite the setback, there was a genuine feeling of goodwill and conviviality among patrons and musicians, who exchanged small talk and snapped photographs of one another, gleefully sauntering about the moonlit church. This was to be anticipated. The LPO’s performance of the first three movements of Mahler’s capricious and celestial third symphony was so breathtaking that it was hard to not feel as though one was taking part in an event that was larger than the individual. To paraphrase one voice overheard in the darkness: “It’s like the orchestra isn’t even playing the music—the music seems to be playing them.”
The opening movement, accented by a storm of tympanis and roaring violas and bass, forms a cauldron in which an abundance of life is spawned. This movement, longer than entire symphonies, captivates the listener's full attention. Listeners audibly gasped as the LPO drew the movement to a close, with many fighting back the desire to applaud, as tradition prohibits.
The following movements were bright and playful, with horns and woodwinds heightening the performances of the strings. A horn solo, performed offstage in the third, took listeners out of the church and into another realm.
When the lights came back on to howling cheers, it appeared the delay only dampened the enthusiasm of a handful of the crowd, who apparently went home. The remaining majority sidled closer to the stage for the final three movements of the concert, welcoming mezzo-soprano Marietta Simpson to the stage. Her sobering interpretation of Nietzsche’s words of humankind’s pain and desire for eternal redemption was robust and assured.
The fifth movement, which featured an all-female contingent of the Symphony Chorus of New Orleans and members of the New Orleans Children's Chorus, was remarkably optimistic and shining, spotlighting gorgeous melodies on viola and glockenspiel, with the children's choir imitating bells. Ms. Simpson filled the room with her rich voice, accompanied by the female chorus.
The final movement, with its many nuances, swirling emotion, and colorful melodies, is so complex that it takes audiences on the edge of euphoria. A fitting end to the LPO’s final concert this season, Maestro Prieto’s interpretation evoked images of a long, spectacular sunset, marking the conclusion of an exciting year, and propelling enthusiasm for the next.
The LPO will be presenting this program again, and most likely without interruption, at 7:30 tonight at First Baptist Church, New Orleans. Tickets start at $20. For more details, visit the LPO website or call (504) 523-6530.
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