spirituality. To get ready for the challenge, the symphony started its season with appropriate works: Saint-Saens' grandiloquent Third in September and Beethoven's portentous Second in October.
But Mahler's Third is made up of more than heaven-storming moments for full orchestra. There are also many passages scored predominantly for brass, others featuring the woodwinds, and a string-soaked finale of infinite beauty. So, to prepare, the symphony's November concert spotlighted just the string section, while the opening work in January featured just the winds.
Or at least parts of their string and wind sections: not counting conductor Arie Lipsky, there were twenty-eight musicians on stage for the opening, Grieg's Holberg Suite, in November. That number dropped to seventeen, including the three soloists, for Bach's Fifth Brandenburg Concerto, and rose to thirty for Dvorak's Serenade. And the numbers were even lower in January with just pairs of oboes, clarinets, horns and bassoons performing Mozart's Serenade (illness kept me from attending that night).
The players that were onstage in November were technically fine, but they'd clearly rehearsed some pieces more than others. Phrasing in the Holberg Suite was so minimal that Grieg's glorious melodies rarely sang, details were so smudged his glowing textures seldom shone, and transitions were so chancy his clean-cut structures didn't always hold together. Worse yet, the players in the Brandenburg seemed to be sight-reading their parts--and Lipsky appeared to be beating time to keep them together.