Date Tips, and Christoph Forgets (Haunted by Mahler II)

I’d put off sharing a couple stories in the first Mahler post, since it was already too long. So in case they might provide someone a chuckle or two, here they are. They’re both from the Mahler 2 performance I’d mentioned by Christoph von Dohnányi and The* Cleveland Orchestra. And as you’ll see, they definitely played a role in making that concert a memorable one.

It was sure to be an unforgettable concert for me from the start, because… I was taking the “girl of my dreams.” It was actually only our second date; in fact our first had been just the day before. She’d come back home to Ohio for a weekend, taking a break from her doctoral studies out of state, and on her previous visit a month or so before, I’d finally mustered up the nerve to ask her out.  (That’s a long story in itself, but don’t panic… it’s not blog-worthy.) So, I had a few weeks to plan; and everything had to be perfect. We’d gone to the Cleveland Museum of Art the day before, then to a concert by a friend’s band that night. So far, so good. Well, ok, so I got lost on the way to the fancy restaurant where I’d made reservations, and we ended up at Applebee’s instead. Oh and yeah, I guess I should mention that my friend’s band was playing at a dive of a biker bar that could’ve been a scene from… alright, so I’m not really up on my biker movies. But I think you get the picture. And I know what you’re probably thinking right about now, too:

  1. “Didn’t you say you had a few weeks to plan this date?”
  2. “You mean… she actually went out with you again?”

Yeah, I could hardly believe it myself. And I sure was relieved, because this was the “moment” I’d been looking forward to the most: sharing Mahler 2 with her, performed by The Cleveland Orchestra at beautiful Severance Hall. She was a classical fan (along with many other musical styles), but she hadn’t heard Mahler’s 2nd… at least not live. So you can imagine how excited I was to share the experience with her. I knew the piece pretty well, and had a number of recordings of it plus a miniature score; but I listened to it almost non-stop during the weeks leading up to the concert, imagining how she would enjoy every moment, seeing it performed for the first time. Yeah, I was that sappy… and that smitten. (Still am, but I guess that gives away the happy ending, eh?)

So, the night finally arrived, and no, I didn’t get lost on the way to Severance Hall. I’m not that much of a knucklehead. (No comments, please.) But, I did take my little score with me. Again, I know what you’re thinking: What was I thinking, right? Well, I liked to do that back then when there was a piece on the program that I happened to have in my small score collection, being a bit of an “armchair conductor.” But I wasn’t sure how she would react. I was prepared to ditch it immediately if she caught a glance and had a look of “really? You’re not actually going to take that into the concert, are you?” on her face. So I certainly never expected the reaction she actually gave when we got out of the car and she saw me grab it. She actually said — ready for this? — “oh… that’s sexy.” Yeah. I still can’t believe it myself. When I told a friend the next day, he just shook his head in disbelief and said: “You’d better marry that girl a.s.a.p. You’ll never find another one like her.” He was absolutely right, of course. And I took his advice… not that I needed any encouragement from anyone. Of course, now that we’ve been married for a number of years, she can’t believe she said that herself. Any time the memory comes up, she’s sure to warn me “you ever try taking a score to a concert with me again, I’m staying in the car!” Ah, well. The memories.

And yet, there’s more. Dohnányi forgot the 4th movement. Yes… you read that right. Good ol’ Christoph (or “CvD” as some call him for short) actually forgot the Urlicht movement. Skipped right over it. Of course, the orchestra and soloist did not. Which made for an interesting situation. They dutifully began the gorgeous 4th movement in beautifully hushed fashion, as almost everyone else in the hall expected. Everyone, that is, except for CvD. It was immediately obvious, from the wild flailing of his arms, and the dramatic shaking of his great mane of hair, that what he was hearing in his head — and expected the orchestra to play — was the violent eruption that opens the final movement. You can imagine the bewildered, wide-eyed looks on the musicians’ faces — especially, of course, the poor mezzo-soprano soloist — as they tried their best to carry on, despite the strange antics of the man on the podium (something many orchestral musicians are all too accustomed to doing, depending on who’s holding the baton). After what seemed like an eternity, but was probably only a few bars, Dohnányi frantically swirled a few desperate concentric circles to cut off the proceedings, tried his best to regain his composure, dignity, and self-respect, and then started again… this time ever so gently, subtly — as expected. From there on, it seemed like everyone on stage was trying their best to simply forget what they’d just witnessed; to pretend it never happened. But a few kept their deer-in-the-headlights look to the very end; an image I can picture to this day, and it never fails to “crack me up.”

* The Cleveland Orchestra has become very particular about including a capitalized The in their name, sort of like The Ohio State University.

Here’s one of our tickets from that memorable evening:

Oh… and that friend whose band we saw at that “biker bar”?  He’s now Callum’s piano teacher! (Matt Riddle; see video page)

 Callum’s Mahler 2 review

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