The musicians file into the concert hall, one and two at a time. There’s a sense of anticipation, of excitement in the air. There’s going to be magic here this afternoon. As the audience takes their seats, music fills the hall, sounds of musicians warming up. No point in warming up downstairs in the Green Room: “Please warm up quietly. You can be heard by the audience.” So the orchestra warms up in the hall, getting accustomed to the acoustics, to the warmth (or lack thereof, due to sub-zero temperatures outside).
There’s a sense of camaraderie on stage. The musicians tell jokes with other musicians (didja hear the one about…). Warm air is blown through instruments, cigarette paper is made quickly available for sticky pads, cough drops are unwrapped and slipped into pockets for the unthinkable coughing attack.
The foyer lights dim and brighten, dim and brighten, alerting the audience that the concert is about to begin. The orchestra quiets. Applause for the concertmistress. A tuning “A”. Another. And another. The hall lights dim, the stage lights brighten.The conductor enters the stage. Rise to acknowledge the applause. Sit.
The music begins. A story is told. The lighthearted camaraderie is gone now, replaced by a single-minded focus. A multi-minded focus, as the single musicians become one, an orchestra. Every musician is now an island, unable, unwilling to converse with anyone else save by sound. A musical conversation, passed amongst the musicians, overheard by the audience.
Perfection. Anything less is failure.
Vocal soloists sing in German, understood in the international language of music. Beauty. Timeless.
The music ends. No one moves, frozen in the perfection of the moment. Movement will mar the perfection. Do not breathe. Do not think. Sit. Feel. Know the power of music.
The conductor lowers his arms. Breathe. Applause. Waves of applause. The audience rises to its feet in appreciation. Acknowledge the soloists. Acknowledge the principal musicians. Rise to acknowledge the audience. Again. Again. Cheers for the beauty and power of Mahler’s music.
The applause wanes. The house lights come up, the stage lights lower. The easygoing camaradie of the musicians returns (wasn’t that beautiful? are you going to the reception? bottle of wine and two straws…). The musicians clean out their instruments, loosen their bows, pack up their equipment and head out into the frigid evening.