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When Mahler Met Saint Saens


Mike Anderson, Julie and Mayor Tom Tait, Director Anthony Parnther
and OCS Exec President Dorothy Rose.

By Michael Buss, 2011-06-27
“The Mayor’s Concert” – as it came to be called, was billed as “Saint Saens Meets Mahler.” And quite apart from the dignitaries who attended on June 26th, Servite Auditorium was packed with one of the largest crowds ever. And the Mahler came to a close with some of the crowd literally whooping and hollering. It was an event for the record books.

But back to the beginning, a cool beginning, out of the afternoon heat into blissful air-conditioning. I had made a point of sitting where I could see the hands of pianist Lynn Czae on the keyboard. To my mind that’s half the entertainment! And on comes this slight wisp of a woman, so delicate and demure in her white silk gown. Her public Facebook page gives a neat rundown of her career from the age of five when she won her first major competition!

Camille Saint Saens came first, the Piano Concerto No.2. The first movement seemed moody, and Parnther was able to keep the orchestra very soft, when necessary, gently underscoring the piano.


Conductor keeps an eye on his piano
soloist, Lynn Czae.

The second and third movements ramp up the pace and before long Ms. Czae’s dainty fingers are rattling with incredible speed up and down the keyboard. Breathtaking. And most lovely, I thought, the many moments when Anthony Parnther turned to watch Lynn play and ensure that the orchestral entrances were exactly what she was expecting. Finally, at presto speed, the orchestra and soloist rushed tumultuously along, gaining volume and momentum and finishing in a whirlwind of G minor arpeggios.

Audiences at Servite seem not to know that convention has it you don’t clap between movements. But this was not the tentative clapping of the few whom nobody told. It was always the wholehearted enthusiasm of people who simply loved what they saw and heard. And that made the concert so engaged, so real, so participatory.

Saint Saens was short (in length) so we were able to tuck in the first movement of Mahler before the intermission. At this point Parnther did what many directors do nowadays – give the audience a few clues to watch out for. Musicians had to be on their toes when he called on one section or another to give him a short riff (my word here) “three measures before 36”. And the next moment they had better play it for us to get the theme! It was not only entertaining but very useful. So we launched into the first movement which sounded like a sluggish April morning slowly dispelling the mists over a soft French landscape as the villagers emerge for a day of farming and trade. Then the cuckoo flies across the meadow. (Did you know cuckoos only sing when in flight? So there’s always a chance of seeing the bird of you hear it.). The horns sound off in the distance. Huntsmen, perhaps, off to chase a boar, perhaps. All this, from the music.


Pianist Lynn Czae with Councilor Lori Galloway.

Intermission

This is notable because of the photo ops. Everybody and her grandmother wanted to take snaps of the lovely soloist and her family. Who can blame them? They LOVED her. There she stood with the Mayor Tom Tait, who also had an entourage comprising his lovely wife, Julie, along with Councilors Gail Eastman, and Lori Galloway. Now get them with the conductor; now with Ms Czae again. Now with – who was that? No matter; every one was in a party mood. And with raffle tickets in our hands we eventually surged back into our seats to see if we had won a prize as Carol Latham (OC Symphony board member) drew the numbers. Over 400 of us were disappointed!

Now to more Mahler. I think, movements 3-5, with #2 having been dropped as is often the case. Because Mahler is not as well known as Beethoven, Mozart or Bach, that doesn’t mean he couldn’t write a good tune. In fact, familiar snippets of melody, lodged somewhere deep in our musical memories, kept popping up like delicious surprises.

Mahler apparently liked to make a lot of noise! For this Symphony No. 1, “Titan” he wanted TEN double basses. And Parnther got them, albeit half hidden in the wings of the stage. The woodwinds were almost doubled in strength, as were the brass. There were strings galore. And I think that I heard a few squeaky notes just off pitch, and the occasional entrance of an instrument before the intended time! A bassoonist had trouble with a reed which gave rise to a muted discussion among the wind section. All quite entertaining. But you had to be very close up and have a pretty good ear to spot that. And the full effect was balanced, well-rounded and powerful.

As the symphony came to is climax the whole audience rose to its feet with applause and sheer elation. From the back, whooping and hollering! It was simply magnificent.

The Mayor has apparently already informally referred to the OC Symphony as Anaheim’s Resident Orchestra, and I believe this will be formalized with a proclamation in City Hall some time in July. It will be well deserved.

The orchestra will be back in the Fall, but not before playing for the crowds in the open air in Pearson Park, and Birch Street, Brea (July 5,6,7) in the evenings; and a Gala on July 10th. All these events you can find on the OC Symphony’s website.

Thank you, OCS, for giving us such joy.


The strings and hammers of the grand piano reflected off the underside of the lid.


Photos by Michael Buss

 

 

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