A long time ago, when I was a wee slip of a children's chorister, Sir Andrew Davis, the conductor of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, retired. In order to mark the occasion, he decided to program Mahler's Behemothic 8th Symphony (aka the "Symphony of a Thousand," though I've never personally performed it with more than 700). I had a particular fondness for Maestro Davis, because he had conducted the symphony for the children's concerts that were my first exposure to real classical music, and because on the occasions that my choir sang with the orchestra, he treated us very seriously like musicians and not like toddlers. For these his final performances as the conductor fo the TSO, I sang in the Knabenchor, and was really very proud to be there.
I remember being captivated by the dramatic and spooky part of the second movement at which the men start to sing, [the singing starts at about 3:30, but it's worth listening to the orchestral stuff beforehand for context and Mahlerian sound; in fact it's worth listening to the entire symphony. That's Leonard Bernstein conducting, btw.] and being sad that I would never be a tenor when I grew up, so I'd never get to sing that bit. Some consolation came from the thought that I'd very likely get to sing the pretty women's parts. Either that or I'd be an opera singer, which would be better, but much more difficult.
The second time I sang Mahler's 8th was for the retirement of Dr. Elmer Iseler as the conductor of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. I guess I was sixteen. That time was even better, because despite his tendency to talk to the children's choir as though we were a bunch of six year olds who had never seen sheet music before ("Now, children, I would like you to make the singing louder, just bit by bit, a little bit at a time," he'd say to us from the podium. "You mean crescendo?" we would think (but never say) from up in the organ loft, where we could see only his pink head surrounded by white fluffy hair, looking like nothing so much as a bowl of strawberries and cream). That time, I was seated way up in the organ loft, with the great Roy Thompson Hall organ on one side of my head and a brass choir on the other. Some sixteen year olds lose their hearing at clubs or concerts; I lost mine to Gustav Mahler.
In any case, I didn't become an opera singer.
So this year, my first in the Mendelssohn Choir, I was pretty gratified to see the 8th Symphony on the schedule, as a performance in celebration of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra's 90th anniversary. Most choral singers don't get to do Mahler's 8th even once, here I was doing it for the third time, and yay, I'm a grownup now. Pretty women's parts, here I come!
Only not so much.
You see, Gustav Mahler wrote the 8th for two full adult choirs (SATB, with various of the voices split into higher and lower parts whenever he wanted even more notes in a chord). Being a second soprano, I was placed in Choir 2.
I think Mahler must have hated Choir 2. Or maybe his Choir 2 sopranos sucked. Because there are a couple of really pretty women's parts in the 8th, and the Choir 1 ladies have them all. Basically, Choir 2 is like the tomato in a club sandwich: we fill in the flavours.
Curse you Gustav Mahler! And curse you Mighty Conductor for making all second sopranos the Choir 2 sopranos! Twenty years I've waited to sing the part of one of the more holy angels, and now I am DENIED!
I was pretty sad, I'll tell you.
But then, at the performance, I had to forgive Mahler. Because the 8th is just so blessed amazing. It still takes my breath away. You can watch the whole thing on YouTube, of course, but that doesn't really do justice to the immensity of the sound of the first bombastic movement, nor to the chills that the changes in dynamics and the tension and release of the second movement bring. The Angelic Soprano always, always gives me warm chills. So Gustav Mahler, I forgive you for your strange dislike of Choir 2 sopranos.
Also, I hummed along with Choir 1.
Some other good things, for them as might be able to use a good thing or several:
Thing #1: Prayerful Trumpets
This past week, I got to hear this lady play this piece of music not once but three times. Sadly, I can't find a video or online recording that combines Alison Balsom's playing and Hovhaness's music, but both were a revelation to me.
Thing #2: Tasty Greens
I made pasta with Kale and Garlic Scape Pesto last night, and may finally have found a delivery method for kale that is not only tolerable, but also actually yummy. So if you want to up your veggie-cred, but find yourself not thrilled with kale as a food, consider making it into pesto.