MUSICAL MUSINGS: Performing Mahler’s First is why I do what I do

The air is cool, a slight breeze pulling at my pinned-back hair as the applause erupts around me.

I close my eyes and listen as the remnants of the final chord reverberate through the outdoor hall.

I smile as I open my eyes and stand to face the crowd.

My gaze rests on my friend and fellow violinist across the stage, whose beaming face mirrors mine.

I then look at my conductor, Jung-Ho Pak. His head is lowered in thanks to the audience.

He puts out his arms and leads us in a bow. And that’s when I know it’s over.

We have just finished playing one of my favorite classical music pieces: Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1.

Performing the fourth movement of this symphony with the Interlochen Philharmonic last summer was one of the most rewarding musical experiences of my life.

We rehearsed for a week before the performance. They were some of the only rehearsals that I hadn’t minded getting up at 6:30 in the morning for.

After that performance, I had a new outlook on classical music.

Previously, I had thought it to be mainly monotonous and dull with the rare exception of a Beethoven’s Fifth type of brilliance.

But, the excitement of Mahler’s First had changed my perspective on music and performing in general.

I used to go to concerts at the Mondavi Center and ended up sleeping through them. Now I go to actually listen.

Performing Mahler’s First was one of the best performances in my life, but not because I played amazingly well. I didn’t play exceptionally well at all.

Instead, it was the sense of being a part of such a thing of beauty and inspiration for others that made me want to cry at the end.

It wasn’t just the amazing music, although it really was great, but more the energy on stage while we performed.

Sitting in the middle of the second violin section, even I could tell how much everyone on stage cared about this performance.

I wasn’t the only one who wanted to do justice to this spectacular symphony.

The beginning of the fourth movement–a chaotic yet somehow orderly assault of fury on the audience’s ears–is so intense and needs to be played so powerfully that it is practically a sin to play it without breaking a few bow hairs.

That feeling of intensity and passion is why I keep playing violin and why I love going to my Youth Symphony rehearsals.

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not all just for college applications.

Sitting in the middle of an orchestra and creating musical masterpieces like Dvorak’s New World Symphony are why I do what I do.

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