Opening Night for the Nashville Symphony: A Second Resurrection for Music City
On Saturday, September 10 the Nashville Symphony held their opening night for the 2022-23 season with a performance of Gustav Mahler’s epic Symphony No. 2 in C minor, “Resurrection.” Perhaps because of the pandemic, or because of the generally “epic” disposition of classically minded Music City audiences, we have been lucky enough to hear this wonderous work twice in the past six months. This the full production as Mahler intended, and last April the Gateway Chamber Orchestra performed Gilbert Kaplan and Rob Mathes’ splendid adaptation for a smaller, chamber orchestra. It has been a challenging year for a number of reasons for our premiere symphony—those crazy purple birds terrorized us and the concert master flew the coop, but if this wonderous performance is any indication, Guerrero and band are back and better than ever!
The first movement, Mahler’s funeral dirge, is one of the most important moments to the success of any performance of this work. It needs to be terrifying if the heroic resurrection theme that follows is to provide any sense of redemption. On Saturday, the theme emerged in the basses with a striking clarity in horrifying accuracy. First the reeds, then high strings, then the horns joined in, building to a chilling climax that filled the vibrant, and fully sold out Schermerhorn.
The second movement, with its delicate Ländler (an Austrian folk song style often borrowed for symphonic composition) was handled in a fantastic manner by Maestro Guerrero, the balance of these various nostalgic lines maintained the romantic and dreamy memory of the hero’s former life. The nostalgia continued into the Scherzo, opening with St. Anthony preaching to the fish, and closing with the famous “death shriek” which marks a return to darker environs. It must be noted that Acting Concertmaster Erin Hall filled her chair splendidly, as the strings, indeed the entire orchestra sounded “on point” through out the evening in a performance of this ambitious and complicated work.
The warmth and tenderness of Urlicht, the fourth movement whose text is drawn from a Wunderhorn Lied, is one of the most beautiful “calm before the storm” moments in the literature. Mezzo Kelley O’Connor performed it remarkable well, lending the marvelous dark luster of her instrument to the “little red rose” that she sung about. The beautiful and stirring performance of the movement’s brass chorale had brass music students at MTSU talking about it in reverence on Monday morning.
Not to be outdone by their colleagues, at the opening of the final movement the percussion section, as well as the offstage horns and percussion, gave a fantastic showing. Soprano Malin Christensson’s voice blended resonantly and evocatively with the immaculately prepared Nashville Symphony Chorus—the a cappella moment was breathtaking. The movement, beginning with a return of the “death shriek” and ending with the glorious and redemptive birth of the hero, was a simply wonderful way to inform us all that the Nashville Symphony is back in all her glory, and we have survived the pandemic. Perhaps it is time we celebrated. The Nashville Symphony returns to the stage next weekend on September 15-17 with “Trailblazing Women.”