Friday, December 21, 2012

A Review of the Winnipeg Symphony (Mahler No. 7 in E minor)

Ballerinas could learn a few things from the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra's (WSO) conductor.

As Alexander Mickelthwate, the music director at the WSO, conducted the 79 musicians sitting on the stage, he showed such grace and fluid movement from his shoulders to the tips of his fingers, he easily could have brought a tear to the eye of any ballet instructor. 

On Friday, November 16, the WSO performed Mahler No. 7 in E minor to an almost full house of 1,030 at the Centennial Concert hall. Mahler No. 7 in E minor contains five movements, each portraying a different emotion, as Mickelthwate explained to the audience during a brief introduction before the music began. 

The first movement is dark and depressing, beginning with a slow melody, and ending with a crying crescendo. This portion of the piece sets the tone for the rest and informs the audience that they are about to embark on an emotional journey. 

The second movement is more energetic, beginning with a quick tempo and highlighting the horns and trumpets.

The third movement transports the audience to a place even darker than the first, and “brings forth the demons,” said Mickelthwate. Half way through the movement, clanking sounds could be heard from behind the audience, and everyone turned in their seats to see where the noise was coming from.

The fourth movement was my personal favourite and accentuated the percussion instruments, while quieting many of the strings. The fourth movement also featured a brief, albeit spellbinding, accent of a lone guitar which, after the absence of the other strings for several minutes, reminded the audience of the effect of a single instrument from the string family.

The final movement sounded much like the second with its up-beat mood and heavy use of strings. When the performance came to a close, the crescendo was brilliant. It used every instrument on the stage, and the suspicious ones behind the audience, and brought the volume in the house so high that it was difficult to discern the drums from the trumpets.  

The conclusion was fitting for a performance that fulfilled its promise of eliciting an emotional response.

When the music ended, much of the audience rose for a standing ovation, and then over the next five minutes each performer responded by giving a wave and a bow.

The performance, which ran for 80 minutes, lacked an intermission and while the original score doesn't call for one, it's likely a small break would allow the audience some respite from the weighty material and refresh themselves to better enjoy the second half. Without an interlude, after an hour of sitting audience members began shifting in their seats.

While Mahler’s piece is emotionally exhausting, one shouldn’t worry about dozing off during the performance. You only need to keep your eyes on Mickelthwate’s performance to have your eyes, along with your ears, entertained. The WSO offered two performances of the piece, one each on the evening of November 16 and 17.

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