Mahler’s Second Symphony: Rising from the Ashes

The Minnesota Orchestra/Minnesota Chorale CD of Mahler’s Second Symphony, Resurrection, is just being released, and I wanted to share some personal thoughts and notes about this astonishing work.

Mahler is a curious composer—a bold visionary whose art is full of contradictions. His guiding philosophy was perhaps best summed up in a famous conversation he had with Finnish composer Jean Sibelius in 1907. As Sibelius recounted later,

“When our conversation touched on the essence of symphony, I said that I admired its severity and style and the profound logic that created an inner connection between all the motives. This was the experience I had come to in composing. Mahler’s opinion was just the reverse. “Nein, die Symphonie müss sein wie die Welt. Sie müss alles umfassen.” (No, the symphony must be like the world. It must embrace everything.)

That quote perfectly captures essence of Mahler’s music. It is a collision of thoughts, emotions, ideas and sensations that are constantly intersecting and interacting with each other. At times, it’s as if you were reading a story where each paragraph was written by a different author in a different style—such as Shakespeare followed by the Brothers Grimm, Emily Dickinson, William Faulkner, Herodotus and O. Henry.

In the end, the cumulative effect is stunning, touching on all parts of the human experience… and vividly recreating the totality of human experience.  It is no wonder why so many love his music.

Mahler’s music isn’t at all hard to listen to, but it is a wonderfully challenging to fully comprehend it. It rewards—if not requires—repeated listening and conversations to grasp its many layers.

The Second Symphony, Resurrection, is a magnificent example of Mahler’s achievement, and one of the easiest to get your arms around. It is a work about loss and a plunge into darkness… before finding inner strength and a renewed hope that allows you to rise to a new level of existence greater you had known before. It is about rebirth and new glory.

Let me explain a bit about why you don’t want to miss Osmo Vänskä, the Minnesota Orchestra, and the Minnesota Chorale’s performance of it… plus provide a few words about the circumstances surrounding the creation of this CD, which have been, and continue to be incredibly meaningful for me. Continue reading

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South Africa: Magic in Soweto

My recap of our electric concert in Soweto is up over at MinnPost. Click here to read why this concert was so remarkable.

For me, this was one of the most important performances of my life, and to my mind encapsulates the spirit this remarkable tour.

[For my complete list of blogposts and articles following the Minnesota Orchestra/Minnesota Chorale on their historic South Africa tour, click here.]

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South Africa Update: A True Exchange

Hi all, after a whirlwind of incredible tour performances, I’m getting ready to head out on Safari (it’s currently a bleary-eyed 6:30 AM local time). So blogging is on hold for a wee bit. But in the meantime, may I direct you to MinnPost to read my story on how the Minnesota Orchestra / Minnesota Chorale engagement activities are having a profound effect on folks here… as well as us?  Read the story here.

More soon!

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South Africa: A Reading List

Back in 2015 when I traveled with the Minnesota Orchestra on its historic tour to Cuba, many readers expressed an interest in me putting together a Cuban-related reading list.  I was happy to do so—having taught Latin American history for many years, it was easy to update the reading list I used to inflict on my students.

Some have wondered if I’m putting together a similar list for South Africa, as a set up for the tour to South Africa.  I was hesitant to do so… South African history is not a particular area of expertise.  In fact, since learning I’m going on this tour (both as a performer and a member of the media), I’ve been working overtime to dive into the country’s history, culture, politics and natural history.  But this gave me an idea for a new post—sharing some recommendations from the South African reading list I essentially assigned to myself.

I don’t pretend the following list is comprehensive, exhaustive, or the final word on South Africa… but it does provide a list of books I found particularly interesting and/or useful, and came highly recommended to me.

If the Minnesota Orchestra/Minnesota Chorale tour has captured your attention, and sparked an interest in learning more about South Africa, read on!  Continue reading

Preparing for South Africa: This Is Why We Sing

It was one of those Moments…the kind of moments you are lucky to have every once in a rare while, in a career as a performing musician.

Funny enough, it came not at a performance, but at a rehearsal this week. And really, it didn’t involve me at all… I was just there to witness someone else’s Musical Moment.  No matter—it was a rare gift, and one that will stay with me a long, long time. Continue reading

South Africa with the Minnesota Orchestra and Minnesota Chorale: Beginnings

It’s difficult to believe, but the Minnesota Orchestra/Minnesota Chorale tour to South Africa is fast approaching. I was fortunate enough to accompany the Orchestra’s tour to Cuba in 2015 as a part of the media contingent (my blogs about Cuba and the stories I wrote for MinnPost while on the tour can be found here), but this time around I’m also taking part as a performer—singing as a member of the Minnesota Chorale in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and a variety of South African music.

And you better believe I’m thrilled to be taking part!

Well, after much preparation and planning, rehearsals are finally under way.

And it’s already been remarkable. Continue reading