Mahler’s Third Symphony is always an event, partly due to the size of forces needed and the space required. The famous opening with the horns in full flight is truly astonishing writing and the power unleashed by Gergiev’s hands in the ample acoustic of the Lincoln Centre is quite ferocious. The immense power of the orchestra in Mahler’s hands is overwhelming at times, at the end of the symphony I think that the decay of the final chord rang long into the darkness, although it was impossible to tell because the audience was already on their feet cheering. With the jubilance of the end after the hymn at the start of the final movement and the precision of the American choirs who joined us for this performance, it is easy to always hear those who shout loudest, particularly in such a loud city, but for me the quietest moments where some of the most special. Roman Simovic’s poetic solos with the soloist were peaceful moments of beauty, however the show was stolen by someone who wasn’t even on the stage. The offstage flugel horn solo (played by Nick Betts) was so unbelievably beautiful, the sound seemed to emerge from the fabric of the building and I could see people in the audience looking around, trying to figure out where it came from. As the orchestral texture thickened, the flugel drifts in and out of soundscape until it reaches a peak and sings out once more. Great stuff and a reminder that you don’t always need to shout to get your point across, sometimes all it takes is a simple tune, played quietly, and played very, very well indeed.
Valery took some time to get the balance right in the rehearsal, at first it was just too quiet. He looked around the hall as he does, trying to hear the sound around the hall. He called Nick onto the stage.
“Sounds good. But maybe a little quiet. Could you play more expressively maybe? Let’s try.”
We did it again. Valery looked around still unhappy. He called Nick back on again.
“I think still too quiet. Where are you standing? Far away? Are you pointing towards stage or away?”
Nick came on. “I’m standing in the stairwell. Pointing up.”
We all laughed and eventually after Nigel Gomm went out to listen and decided it was still too quiet, Nick moved closer to the stage, out of the stairwell and pointed sideways.
It was a beautiful moment and it was lovely to see him brought on for a bow at the end of the concert alongside the soloist and chorus master. Normally the offstage player will play in whatever clothes he happens to be wearing, nobody can see you. However, Nick still had to dress up in tails simply because of the bow at the end. Normally the flugel player is finished a good 45 minutes before the rest of the orchestra and is half way down his second pint by the time the remainder of the trumpet section join him.
I didn’t actually ask him which one he preferred.