With not a little irony, the Redlands Symphony Orchestra's programmed music, Mahler's Symphony No. 2, 'The Resurrection,' opened just hours after the predicted rapture was scheduled.
The rapture: on hold. The music: absolutely rapturous.
Encumbered by two compromises - muted, rather than off-stage brass and a mood-shattering intermission between movements three and four - the orchestra's performance nonetheless raised the level of expectation for what this orchestra, with conductor Jon Robertson directing, can and will do.
Classical music doesn't get any more serious than Symphony No. 2, an intricate exploration of the need for hope and the exaltation of God, from the opening awakening notes to the positively glorious orchestral affirmation at the end. Robertson had said in an earlier interview that Mahler was an acquired taste. Be that so, a house full of listeners acquired the taste at Saturday's concert and was raised to their feet for a lengthy and well-deserved standing ovation.
This was Robertson's event. He programmed the music, he lived the music, and he gathered, with care and passion, 72 instrumentalists, 114 chorus-members, and two soloists to experience this symphony - "symphony," too small a word.
Robertson, surprisingly subdued, steered the orchestra through enough tempo changes in the first movement to give a headache - Mahler's music seems to have more starts and stops than the Metrolink to Los Angeles - building the sound to a massive swirl, then whittling the sound to barely nothing, and carefully holding it there, before starting all over again. No conducting histrionics from Robertson; only deliberate and deliberately expressive gestures.
Deceptively simple, the choral portion of this work is usually reserved for professional choirs. But the combined university and community choirs at this event, disciplined and completely responsive to Robertson's direction, performed with total commitment from the ethereal first notes, not quite hushed enough to raise goose bumps, through their long, soft and pitch-true unaccompanied lines to the heart-pounding resolution - a figurative rise to heaven, at the least.
From the choir sound, the lush soprano voice of Angel Blue rose like the clouds parting for the beams of sunlight, and joined with Robinson for the brief, perfectly blended and beautifully shaped duet.
Robertson may have created a monster, for now we may not settle for anything less than this perfect triangle - amazing music, orchestra and conductor - for every concert.