Sunday, November 23, 2008

Cantadas - Mahler

Saturday... one of those days where everything goes well.

Low-Key week 8!First, Cara and I went out to Lomas Cantadas for week 8 of the 2008 Low-Key Hillclimbs. In short, virtually everything went well: the weather, the volunteers, my riding, and the results prep after the climb. After enjoying myself in the Orinda Starbucks, entering results, I had them posted by around noon. Then I met Cara who was sampling the smoothie offerings of scenic Orinda, and we drove back home to meet an old friend of mine who would be staying over while she's in town.

Then dinner: a pleasant surprise. We had reservations for Cara's birthday at Sauce, a San Francisco mid-upscale "comfort food" place. It has about the least attractive menu I could imagine: all meat and cheese and, obviously, sauce. I went off-menu, asking for "steamed vegetables". The chefs couldn't didn't want to leave it with that, though, and prepared some mildly sauteed selections, rich in asparagus which I really like, which was as good an option as I could have hoped for. Quite nice, altogether, and topped off with some Tazo "Comfort" tea, a nice blend of Chamomile and Licorice root, among other flavors.

American Premier
The US Premier: SF was more restrained.
Then the Symphony.... we made it just in time for the 7pm pre-concert talk, which I always enjoy, then the paradigm of spectacular (short of live cannon) symphonic works, Mahler's Eighth, the "Symphony of a Thousand" (okay, I only counted 340 musicians last night, but that was plenty). This is the last in the full series of Mahler symphonies being recorded by Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. It really was remarkable.... the second of two movements takes a full hour, and although I thought it tended to drag a bit in the middle, the climax was wonderful. Mahler is a different experience than work from the popular composers who preceded him.... the Eighth was written only 102 years ago. To me, it's about the sound. The music has a presence that is hard to match, and in the Eighth, he brought together an incredible range of options and managed to keep it coherent. The incorporation of the Symphony organ was icing on the cake, and it was seemlessly integrated, not as dominating as an organ can so easily be. When the principal percussionist brought out a huge mallet, poised in front of the gong, I knew the work was drawing to its exciting close. And that close left the crowd ecstatic. Highlight: the boy's and girl's choirs. I love a good melding of chorus and orchestra, and they don't get much better than this one. The most famous such work is clearly Beethoven's Ninth, but unlike Beethoven's work, Mahler's Eight doesn't push its solists into the listener's face. So while I wouldn't say that this was my favorite symphony in terms of pure music, the impact of the live performance was really special. And MTT's crew always seems to elevate its game when it's recording, not that it's not strong otherwise.

So, a great day. A wonderful climb, a surprisingly nice dinner, a chance to host an old friend, and the magic of live music at its best.

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