Mahler tells us in his “Second Symphony” that we all have a purpose, and that what we have long strived for and longed for can be attained.
“You have not lived in vain – you have not suffered in vain!”
And the Johnstown Symphony Orchestra is all about new life, and rising again.
Johnstown, this is your symphony.
After my last column, we received a flood of phone calls at the office.
Most people wanted to buy tickets – we have a few left, but we are getting closer to selling out the hall.
But several others called and wrote with suggestions for what bells we might use in our performance this Saturday.
Happily, we now have a number of fantastic options.
One is a bell that was used by a fire company during the 1889 flood and that was returned to Johnstown in 2016. It’s amazing to hear that sound and how it incorporates the heroic response by first responders and everyday heroes to the 1889 flood, whose 130th anniversary we are also marking.
Another bell we will play is a piece of rail track forged in our mills, which ties us to the incredible steel workers who helped build the city and who built the rails that first crossed the continent.
Just the other day, I went to pick up a historic blacksmith tool at the Center for Metal Arts, which is a great symbol of new life in Johnstown. When I first arrived as music director just a few years ago, that space was historic, but long dormant.
Now it once again is active.
Given that we have 250 musicians performing, with six percussionists playing everything from timpani to cymbals and more, it may seem odd to spend such energy on the bells. But it is actually true to Mahler’s intentions.
When he was preparing for one of his performances of the piece, he described an all-day trip he took to a foundry where he sampled the sound of numerous bells before finding just the right ones. He needed these instruments to be just right.
We are paying the same attention to detail in our performance.
Many people who know this piece have called or written to say how excited they are to hear the JSO perform it. If Mahler is new to you, and if the “Second Symphony” doesn’t ring any bells (forgive the pun!), I encourage you to do an internet search for “Mahler 2” and listen to any recordings or videos that come up.
Every live performance of the piece is more of a powerful experience rather than merely a concert to attend, and it is not infrequent to see musicians and audience members wipe away tears when the performance has come to its climactic conclusion.
Over the past several decades, Mahler’s music has become nearly as popular and often-performed as the music of Beethoven, but he wasn’t always so universally admired.
I think one of the reasons people respond so strongly to his music is because it is direct, emotional – and because it truly takes us on a journey.
As we celebrate 90 years, we hope you will join us for this epic and triumphant experience in sound.