Bernstein Today

The Mahlerthon: A Bernstein Sunday in New York: Part 2

Imagine hearing the musical equivalents of a blanket and hot chocolate, followed by music that sets your hair “on fire”, only to have it reignited by Mahler half an hour later!

Welcome to a Bernstein Sunday in New York. (Read Part 1 here)

Sunday, February 25, 4:30 PM

Not for the first time this year, I wished I could be in two (or three) places at once.

While I wouldn’t have missed the Mozart clarinet quintet or Dudamel conducting Tchaikovsky for the world, I wanted to hear my favorite Mahler symphony (No. 2) while watching my father’s notated conducting score scroll by. My brother, Alexander, got that privilege.

See why Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 is so special to Leonard Bernstein and me in this video:

I didn’t mind missing Mahler’s No. 2 too much. I got to hear and see Mahler’s Symphonies No. 5 and 6!

The Mahlerthon: Barbara Haws’ brilliant brainchild

Thirteen hours. Nine Mahler symphonies. One day.

Barbara Haws, archivist of the New York Philharmonic, hatched this crazy scheme about a year ago. The Philharmonic has housed LB’s conducting scores since his death and Barbara has lovingly perused them.

Nina Bernstein Simmons and Barbara Haws at the Mahler Marathon. (Credit: New York Philharmonic Archives)
Nina Bernstein Simmons and Barbara Haws at the Mahler Marathon. (Credit: New York Philharmonic Archives)

She harnessed the power of 21st century technology to allow everyone (so Bernstein!) to view the Mahler scores with LB’s markings in real time as his Sony Classical recordings of the symphonies with the Philharmonic played.

Forty students from all over the country served as “page turners”: they sat at LB’s actual podium with a computer from which the images of the digitized scores emanated and “turned” the pages with a swipe of a finger.

The audience listens to one of nine Mahler symphonic recordings, each with Leonard Bernstein's marked scores displayed on the screen. (Credit: Chris Lee / Courtesy: New York Philharmonic.)
The audience listens to one of nine Mahler symphonic recordings, each with Leonard Bernstein’s marked scores displayed on the screen. (Credit: Chris Lee / Courtesy: New York Philharmonic.)

The fabulous Fred Child hosted the day.

"Mahler: His Time Has Come," by Leonard Bernstein, page 51 in the 1967-09 issue of High Fidelity.
“Mahler: His Time Has Come,” by Leonard Bernstein, page 51 in the 1967-09 issue of High Fidelity.

I introduced Mahler’s Symphony No. 6 with a quotation from the article my father wrote for High Fidelity magazine in 1967, Mahler: His Time Has Come.

Many of the ideas for that article appear as scribbles in his signature “reddy-bluey” pencil on the frontispiece of his score of the Sixth, the image of which was projected on the screen.

“Basic elements (including clichés) of German music (also It. opera, etc.?) driven to their furious ultimate power…  Result: neurotic intensity, irony, extreme sentimentalism, despair (that it can’t go even further) apocalyptic radiance, shuddering silence, volcanic auftakten, gasping luftpausen, titanic accents achieved by every means (sonic & tonic), ritards stretched to near motionlessness, marches like a heart attack, old-fashioned 4-bar phrases punctuated in brass & fire, cadences that bless like the moment when an excruciating pain suddenly ceases.”

And I had the distinct honor of showing the page in the score where he had pasted the Mahler Grooves bumper sticker!

We then heard the recording, listening for all of the above. Most gratifying.

Watch the interlude between Mahler Symphonies No. 5 and 6, complete with Lenny-inspired exercises (“Maestro Moves”), led by Evan Leslie of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts:

Barbara, we salute you and thank you for pulling off an event that really would have amazed and delighted my father.

And to all the folks who stayed for all thirteen hours of the Mahlerthon: you groove!

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