REVIEW: Mozart & Mahler | WASO | Perth Concert Hall

I have to say, last week was pretty spectacular in Perth live arts: The Little Mermaid at The Blue Room on Thursday night, followed by Mozart and Mahler with WASO at the Perth Concert Hall on Friday, then a play reading with Upstart Theatre Company in Fremantle on Saturday, ending with MOH – On the Concept of Love with Ankoku Buyo Collective at The Crafty Swine on Sunday. I also managed to fit in an advance screening of Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine while I was at it, thanks to my buddy Robert, from What Robert’s Watching.

I’d have to say, however, out of all that, I felt the most intense joy and rapture from hearing and watching the Mahler. Mahler’s no. 7, conducted by Paul Daniel, to be precise. I sat in the choir stalls, and I am convinced there is no other place to sit. It was the most fun I have ever had at the symphony; I felt part of the action, and with Mahler’s no. 7, there’s plenty of it. I sat on the side of the horn section, which sent me back to the days when I used to play in the horn section, waiting with bated breath for my cue, counting the beats nervously, praying to whoever that I didn’t crack a note.

You see, I’m a music nerd by birth, and at heart. It’s in my blood — both my parents were classical musicians, my grandfather played the tenor sax almost until the day he died. I took it for granted, the stuff I’d been introduced to from the time I was a baby, and it’s only now, years after the horn was put away in its case for the last time, years after the piano was sold due to downsizing, and years after the choir music and arias gave way to singing in the car, that I realise how important and formative it was. And it’s only now that I feel regret at how much I did take it for granted. I gave it a go, but hit a serious wall when it came to theory. I made excuses. I gave up. I went into theatre.

So going back to classical music as a spectator all these years later is full of discovery and rediscovery. Rediscovering what I had forgotten about what classical music entails, discovering which pieces have emotional impact, which ones have intellectual impact, which ones have technical impact…this is all part of the game of music appreciation. Of course, the best ones impact us in all three ways. And as the Mahler began on Friday night, I sat absolutely in awe of what I was hearing and seeing, so full was the impact from all angles.

The piece itself is just magnificent. Twists and turns, highs and lows, swoons and thrills and chills and aches and laughs and tears. Suddenly Spanish! Oboe twins. Woodwinds raising their bells in the air like trumpets. Strange clanging from the percussion section. The horns! Always the horns! The contrabassoon. The brief but intense viola solo. The euphonium solos. The horns! Trumpet fanfare. Dropping in the bass note. The diverging lines. The build-ups, the just about to climax build-ups that retreat and regroup and come back for more. The timpani singing. The horns!

Paul Daniel is also full of joy when he conducts. I didn’t pay much attention to his conducting at Latitude because he had his back to us, and also I was way in the back. But he came across as a really fun-loving leader, really good-humoured, accessible. Not some old stuffed shirt. He chatted to the audience before and/or after each piece and seemed really at ease. I thought maybe it was just the Latitude atmosphere, which is considerably more casual than a night at the concert hall, but now that I’ve seen him work from the other side, it’s quite clear that he’s having a blast up there. Yes, there was a bit more formality; he didn’t grab the mic and talk about how what Mahler had for breakfast affected his writing, for instance, but the same uplifted and sharing spirit was there.

When I saw in the program that the piece was 77 minutes long, I got a bit anxious, since I had no idea what to expect. I might have been exposed to the piece at some point, but I wouldn’t have paid much attention, or given it much thought, sadly. So when those 77 minutes finished in the blink of an eye, I thought, my god, I could sit through it all again, right now. Flew by. I was sad I already had something else planned for Saturday night. I wanted to go again. If I could do it over again, I’d get there early and get right in the middle of the front row of the choir stalls so I could lean over the balcony and see both sides of the orchestra. The guy next to me couldn’t help but stand up to look over the balcony at the musicians he couldn’t see. I resisted the strong temptation to do the same.

Oh and they did a couple of short pieces by Takemitsu that would have been really beautiful if the trumpets hadn’t flubbed and cracked so many attacks. Geez. Conducted by Christopher Dragon. I won’t mention his hair again.

And there was the Mozart portion, Serenade no. 6.  Funny little one they jazzed right up for us, but the first violinist was so sharp the whole time it made me cringe. Everyone except the cello got a cadenza. Even the timpanist. Well, the 3rd and 4th violins didn’t get solos. That would just be excessive.

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