Tag Archives: classical music

Mahler 8, “Symphony of A Thousand”

31 Aug

Last week I was lucky enough to perform Mahler’s 8th symphony, aptly nicknamed “Symphony of a Thousand” as it pretty much feels like a thousand person ensemble. This might be the only time I’ll ever perform Mahler 8, as it’s one of the largest scale orchestral works in the classical repertoire.  With three distinct choruses and an extra large orchestra, our concert had about 500 performers.  Luckily, we performed in a huge music tent and had space/another balcony for most of the singers (A google search of “Mahler 8” will show you some pretty hilarious pictures of musicians piled on to each other in concert halls).

Action shot. Photo credit to catherinecussaguet.com

It’s really just awesome to play with choruses. Being in the middle of an orchestra is already powerful, and when large choirs start singing you can literally feel the sound all around you. To be honest, there were spots in rehearsal that I was so wrapped up in listening to the music all around me that I missed one or two entrances… oops!

Standing room only! Photo credit to catherinecussaguet.com

Like Beethoven 9, the libretto is about the eternal human spirit and the joy is so uplifting. The energy of so many people working together to create something beautiful is a magnificent experience, so if you ever see an advertisement for a live performance of Mahler 8, don’t even think about it – just go!

-Michelle

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That’s nice, but what’s your real job?

9 Jul

Here’s some listening from one of my favorite pieces while you read, Daphnis et Chloé, suite no. 2 by Maurice Ravel.

It’s only fitting that my first post be about music and the lifestyle of a classical musician.  I find it difficult to explain my everyday life and this process of work to non-musicians, so I’d like to offer you a brief glimpse into the inner workings of my world.

Before I go on, I’d like you to read this article that pretty accurately describes the infinitely repeating method of working towards an audition. It will take you about 5 minutes, but it’s well worth it. I’ll wait here!

It’s a disturbingly common assumption that because music is a passion, it’s just a hobby to do on your downtime and not a ‘real’ profession. The same is said about visual artists, writers, and others who work an extremely specific and creative trade. (I suppose I’m something of a visual artist, as oboists are required to make our own reeds. Here’s an abridged description: I take a stick of bamboo, split it, plane it, gouge it, shape it, tie it and then scrape it so it’s thinner than paper and perfectly proportional to the .01mm. It’s a process that takes hours on end for a reed that will only last a few hours!). One of the main things we creatives have in common is our lack of income, i.e.“starving artists.” Why, though? In my opinion it’s an accessibility issue: when it comes to music, many young people think that classical music is for the old and stuffy. Meanwhile, the generation who DOES love our work is slowly dying, all of which lowers demand as well as our paychecks.

About 1/3 of my reed making tools, all that I could fit in my suitcase!

Back to the point, though. We work just as hard – some say harder – than professional athletes. We train for hours upon hours a day (recalling the article, the subject practiced for 14-20 hours a day, and scheduled meetings with his wife just so they could talk), often pushing through overuse injuries, all for a brief 1-2 hour period of intensely critiqued performance, which we then review and learn from for an improved subsequent concert. By the same token, if we blotch a solo or derail in concert, it haunts us for days or weeks, as we’re then constantly thinking about what we could have done better and how we let down the orchestra. Performance anxiety is prevalent throughout the musical community, and there is rampant use of beta-blockers to prevent nerves from interfering with execution.

My brother and I performing at my Masters Recital

The question I always get is: “why would anyone choose such a life?” To be honest, this is a good point.  With digitized orchestral music replacing live performance, why on earth would anyone subjugate themselves to a life of 10-hour practice days, intense stress, and low income? One great answer is the travel. I’m writing this post from the mountains in Aspen, Colorado, where I’m a musician at the Aspen Music Festival. Two months, multiple orchestras, and over 300 concerts! While here, I’ll play under world-renowned conductors and next to some of the best musicians in the world from top tier orchestras like the Metropolitan Opera, Chicago Symphony and the Cleveland Orchestra. The phrase “music takes you places” isn’t just an empty saying. Thanks to music, I’ve been to almost every continent, toured the most incredible countries, played in amazing concert halls, and enjoyed unforgettable experiences.

Breathtaking views every day in Aspen. Photo courtesy of panoramio.com

Then there’s the most obvious answer: because you love it. There cannot be any other reason other than you can’t imagine life any other way. The absolute rush of an orchestra knee-deep into an epic phrase is a reason worth waking up every day to brave the grueling work. And though we’re stressed out and poor, rather than working a dreary 9-5 and live only for the weekends, we get to explore the creative process and share a little bit of our souls with every performance. It becomes absolutely worth it.

This is my day job. Find me in the oboe section!

I hope everyone reading this has something that they wake up excited about! As Albert Einstein famously said, “Do what you love and love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

-Michelle

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