Susan Graham Sings in Mahler's Colossal 3rd Symphony
Saturday, June 19, 2021
In a 2018 concert from Symphony Hall, the American mezzo-soprano joins the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Tanglewood Festival Chorus in Mahler's Symphony No. 3, a musical microcosm of the natural world.
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Tanglewood Festival Chorus
Andris Nelsons, conductor
Susan Graham, mezzo-soprano
MAHLER Symphony No. 3
WCRB's Brian McCreath previews the concert with Andris Nelsons in the player above.
Brian McCreath (BMcC) [00:00:00] You told me earlier this year about the first time that you got to know Mahler, it was Mahler 1, through meditation and all that, and martial arts, focusing your mind. What was the story of finding Mahler 3? Was there a particular way that that piece came to you or that you discovered it?
Andris Nelsons (AN) [00:00:19] I think that piece, the Mahler 3, came with the last movement. Because I think it's one of the most beautiful, beautiful and sad at the same time. And also, of course, "What Love Tells Me," you know, it's something which, you know, for a young boy, youngish boy, it's very, you know, it's very romantic and very sad. And I was really crying. This is-- the First was more bringing me, you know, in a kind of strong spirit. And then the Third absolutely left me in tears, and an absolutely anti-martial art feeling. It's beautiful, but it is so sad at the same time. And then there are these transcendental soft feelings where you think that the music is almost disappearing. And then comes the final chorale. And maybe that really was the first music which associated very much with love, you know. With love as something not, you know, not only egoistic and beautiful, but actually it can be also painful and sad. And of course, I had an interest because of playing trumpet. I was very interested to hear the first movement and the trombone solo and, you know, the posthorn solo. It is a very-- it is not [an] easy symphony, I think, for conducting and for bringing it together, because it's long.
BMcC [00:02:17] Is it harder than other, I mean, it does have a lot of moving parts and a lot of transitions and a lot of decisions about about tempos and all of that.
AN [00:02:29] I don't know, it's difficult. Every one, probably, of course, is different. But I would say that for me, 7th is the most difficult. And then comes 3.
BMcC [00:02:38] Oh, yeah, yeah.
AN [00:02:41] And maybe then 5.
BMcC [00:02:43] Yeah, yeah. Because the third has, I guess, you can-- there's so many ways that you can go slightly off the rails.
AN [00:02:52] Yeah. If you get too-- if you start the first movement immediately too dramatic, too [sings], you know, then you think, "what can it be." Is it difficult to somehow pace yourself, what the first moment is about, and it's so long.
BMcC [00:03:13] And as a conductor, you also have to keep in mind, especially in the last movement, just how tired the orchestra might be. You can't stretch those lines out very long because they're—
AN [00:03:25] They're tired, of course. That, you know, everyone is tired. And then, but then he expects them, Mahler expects the most beautiful sound, most long, long phrases with patience and beauty.
AN [00:04:22] So everyone, string instruments are tired, woodwind instruments, brass instruments are tired, but so I think he requires-- and that's why this movement sounds either beautiful or not. It's the extra, something extra. So you cannot play it only with the physical, technological way. If you don't add heart, your soul and your... Mahler squeezes you out. He doesn't let you, you know, it's really either you conduct or play. He doesn't let you rest. You know, he knows you're tired, but he knows you have, you can find the power. He knows that. And he pulls out the last drop of you. But if you succeed, that sound, of course, is amazing.
BMcC [00:05:20] Fantastic. Andris Nelsons, thanks a lot for talking with me today.
AN [00:05:23] It was a great pleasure. Thank you. Thank you.