And The Winner Is…

Do you pay atten­tion to the Gram­my Awards?  I must con­fess: I don’t, not espe­cial­ly.  Sure it’s fun to watch the year­ly fash­ion show, and see the lights and glit­ter and lip-sync­ing played out… and we chuck­le at all the win­ners’ bab­ble, and then laugh at the com­men­tary about the bab­ble, and then at the com­men­tary about all the com­men­tary!  But, when it comes down to it, frankly, most of the time I’m left with the feel­ing of where’s the music?  Where’s the real music?

You know, the stuff that reeks won­der­ful­ly of sin­cer­i­ty, and toil?  The stuff that lit­er­al­ly changes your life when you hear it… where’s that?  Where’s the music that catch­es your breath and makes your hair stand on end, and you know in an instant that if you heard that music again many years lat­er it would be just as mov­ing and thrilling and awe-inspir­ing if not more so.  Where is that, the real music, the PASSION?

So, for this year’s Grammy’s, I decid­ed to cast only a half-heart­ed eye and ear in the direc­tion of Hol­ly­wood.  Save some time, right?  Wrong!  Shock­er of shock­ers: out of the ampli­fied din of plat­form shoes and cleav­age and crazi­ness, there comes a name that I inti­mate­ly rec­og­nized, a name on the win­ners’ list that grabbed my atten­tion and made me sit up straight–Mahler.  Mahler?!  Com­pos­er Gus­tav Mahler, who passed away in 1911?!  Yikes, yes!!!  Here in the win­ners’ cir­cle, his soul was unmis­tak­en­ly present: his music was shin­ing in the spot­lights, gloriously–and not once, not twice, but three times:

  • BEST CLASSICAL ALBUM–Gustav Mahler: Sym­pho­ny No. 8 and the Ada­gio from Sym­pho­ny No. 10, with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Fran­cis­co Sym­pho­ny
  • BEST CHORAL PERFORMANCE–Gustav Mahler: Sym­pho­ny No. 8 and the Ada­gio from Sym­pho­ny No. 10, with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Fran­cis­co Sym­pho­ny
  • BEST ENGINEERED CLASSICAL ALBUM–Gustav Mahler: Sym­pho­ny No. 8 and the Ada­gio from Sym­pho­ny No. 10, with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Fran­cis­co Sym­pho­ny

Now, per­son­al­ly, I have to say, “Hot damn, this rocks!”  For Mahler’s 8th is incred­i­ble.  It is undoubt­ed­ly one of the most dif­fi­cult sym­phonies of all time to pull off, par­tial­ly because of the sheer size of the under­tak­ing and because of all the com­po­nents involved: a huge orches­tra, large cho­rus, mul­ti­ple soloists, organ, children’s cho­rus­es… hun­dreds, let me just say that again, hun­dreds of musi­cians are involved!  No won­der it became known in Mahler’s time as his “Sym­pho­ny of a Thou­sand”– a uni­verse of bod­ies is required!  And per­formed today, it is just as vast and com­pli­cat­ed and mind­bog­gling.

But what is even more amaz­ing about Mahler’s 8th is that, in spite of the epic-ness of it all, the music is alarm­ing­ly trans­par­ent.  Dan­ger­ous­ly trans­par­ent.  For Mahler was fanat­i­cal in his orches­tra­tion and scor­ing: he craft­ed every sin­gle voice and lone instru­men­tal line with such absolute per­fec­tion, that each is fright­en­ing­ly exposed exact­ly as he intend­ed.  And what does this mean?  No lip-sync­ing soloists found here!  No shrink­ing vio­lets any­where on a Mahler-sym­pho­ny stage!  No, here the musi­cians are real and true, and brave–they have to be!  They stand in a sea of human­i­ty upon that stage, strong with years of edu­ca­tion, sweat and toil in their blood; yet each per­son is indi­vid­u­al­ly called upon to pre­vail like a soli­tary and hum­ble hero, tak­ing a giant leap into the sky when­ev­er Mahler asks it of them.

Well… leap they do, all of them do, here in this three-Gram­my-award-win­ning record­ing of Mahler’s 8th Sym­pho­ny!  Con­duc­tor Michael Tilson Thomas, the San Fran­cis­co Sym­pho­ny, the Pacif­ic Boys Choir, the San Fran­cis­co Sym­pho­ny Cho­rus, the San Fran­cis­co Girls Cho­rus, the soloists, the engi­neers–all of them make a quan­tum leap in this amaz­ing record­ing.  Indi­vid­u­al­ly and togeth­er they soar, always gen­uine­ly, through­out this entire enor­mous work.  And the results of this, for you and me?  Mag­nif­i­cence!  Bril­liance!  And tears.  Mag­nif­i­cence that is almost over­whelm­ing!  Bril­liance that can scarce­ly be described!  And tears, tears that glis­ten with life’s full spec­trum of col­ors… tears of joy, because Mahler always shows us the soul of human­i­ty.

With Mahler, it is always all about the MUSIC.  Isn’t that what the Grammy’s are sup­posed to be about?

Below, be sure to check out this short but first-rate video (pro­duced by the San Fran­cis­co Sym­pho­ny and enti­tled “A Uni­verse of Sound”) on the pro­duc­tion of this extra­or­di­nary Mahler’s 8th Sym­pho­ny record­ing.  You’ll get to hear the con­duc­tor and some of the engi­neers and musi­cians com­ment­ing on what it was like rehears­ing and prepar­ing for this LIVE record­ing!  It’s a rare view, only a few min­utes in length–and I get incred­i­bly excit­ed every time I watch it.  What inspi­ra­tion!

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