THE BLOG
11/15/2012 11:00 am ET Updated Jan 15, 2013

Mahler's 'Symphony No. 6': The Biggest Bang

After politely munching on a small appetizer of ballet music from Franz Schubert, the house lights went up for intermission and the Oregon Symphony began swelling its ranks to tackle Monday night's gigantic pièce de résistance: Gustav Mahler's "Symphony No. 6" Clocking in at over 80 minutes and requiring over 90 musicians, this composition is massive even by Mahlerian standards; frankly, just witnessing the logistics of this performance was worth the price of admission. Folks, we're talking about nine glorious french horn players... we're talking about 10 mighty violists... we're talking about raised platforms of 16 stunning men banging and blowing their hearts out! Sigh. And to be clear, it wasn't just about quantity that night -- the quality of the entire group's performance was beyond staggering. Whether it was concertmaster Kwak fiddling or Ms. Sindell soloing or B-man Gardiner slapping his giant-ass bass drum with an unidentified object, every single musician on stage was quite clearly giving it their all. The band's balls out playing reached such epic proportions that after the third movement scherzo twirled itself out, a slim, trim and tailless Maestro Carlos Kalmar instructed the band to re-tune before ultimately launching themselves into the finale.

With the hallucinatory sounds of harp, celeste and soaring strings, the immense final movement opens like a fantastic dream -- only to be smashed 30 seconds later by an epic symphonic crash. Oh, I'm sorry: Were you clinging to some feeble anticipation of a satisfying resolution or a final taste of healing redemption? Mahler discards the listener's hopes like junk mail. Right after crumpling them up. Seriously. Even after absorbing this music nonstop for two weeks at home and purposefully relocating in the balcony to get a clear shot of the infamously reinforced wooden block, Niel DePonte's first goddamn hammer blow still scared the crap out of me. This is devastating music throughout, and with a couple of minutes remaining in the piece, a weary, post-Katrina brass funeral march signaled once and for all that the jig is up and we are most definitely fucked. The time for diversionary escape is completely over and the moment to meet our maker has arrived. On second thought, scratch that: In his sixth symphony, Mahler reveals there is no maker to meet. After an unbroken string of frighteningly miraculous moments, the band unleashed the biggest bang in the history of classical music and annihilated the crowd, taking our breath away, once and for all.

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