During the last week of February, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (NJSO) hosted a Viking invasion! Guest conductor Rune Bergmann, as energetic as he is brilliant, literally took the stage. In the Sunday pre-concert lecture, Bergmann gave us many insights into the work we would soon hear. Make the time to come early for Patrick Chamberlain’s conversations prior to a concert and you will have an even richer experience. Seeing Bergmann and hearing his approach to the work and hearing Patrick’s snippets of special listening were pure delight. Maestro Bergmann, who hails from Norway, also set our expectations very high for fellow Norwegian Marianne Beate Kielland, the mezzo-soprano we would soon hear.
The first piece on the program was Richard Wagner’s Prelude to “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg”–one of his most lighthearted works, which tells the story of a medieval singing contest. The sweep and grandeur of Wagner is there, yet the music is lighter and shows a sense of play. Wagner creates a wall of sound in places a full century prior to Phil Spector!
The next work was Gustav Mahler’s “Songs of a Wayfarer.” Originally written beautifully from the impetus of a broken heart, Mahler’s song cycle remembering his beloved, who spurned him for another, was given beautiful light and life by Kielland. While many of us had not yet experienced the wonder she possesses, Bergmann had given us some insight into what we would enjoy. Kielland’s voice is rich and has the affect of pure dark honey with sunlight beaming through. I made a note to seek out everything in her catalog.
The second act was entirely devoted to Johannes Brahms’ Symphony Number One in C Minor, Opus 68. Maestro Bergmann conducted this work without a score and his work with the orchestra in the Un poco sostenuto felt like a master painter beginning his work. This towering figure, one of whose mentors was Kurt Masur, brought the heart from each aspect of the orchestra as he conducted. Bergmann conducted the Andante sostenuto without a baton, as he appeared to sculpt Brahms’ work, 20 years in the making, as if it were clay. And what a Galatea! Un poco allegretto e grazioso had dynamic ranges that gave us shape and color and the final Adagio–più andante–Allegro non troppo, ma con brio was all that and more. It was a maelstrom of pure swirling thought and energy, darkness and a glimmer of light to full on joy. Maestro Bergmann had said that this work required a great deal of focus and this was 45 minutes of pure Zen. If Vikings may invade again and again, I say these Norwegians should!
NJSO is a smorgasbord of music–from playing the score to films to contemporary hot Latin Nights, new composers to new favorites, visit www.njsymphony.org
to get your seat for the best in classical music! See you on March 11 at NJSO’s Sunday Afternoon OUT! Get tickets now with a special LGBTQ reception after!