Up Close with the Boston Symphony Orchestra

Today a friend and I got the chance to see a bit of what happens before the curtain goes up at the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The BSO held an open rehearsal of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, conducted by Music Director Andris Nelsons.

A pair of crabby ladies shooed us from their seats, but—thank you, Karma—our correct seats turned out to be even impossibly better, two rows up and just one row from the conductor’s wobbly-ish podium and the cellists’ section. I could see the notes on Maestro Nelsons’ score, and on the cellists’, all of whom I noticed wore their wedding bands on their right hands – their bow hands.

a view from the front row at the Boston Symphony Orchestra's rehearsal

I was close enough to watch the cellists breathe in unison as they answered the French horns.

When a musician sneezed during a performance, I could hear Nelsons say, “Bless you!”

And: “From 109, it’s a fortissimo più pesante”…“Play this more introverted”…I could see the first violist flush bright pink and say, “Ugh! Sorry! So sorry about that!” when she flubbed a note.

In an orchestra, each player does their part to complete a more wonderful and satisfying whole. It’s surreal to sit and listen to live orchestral music swirling around you, then open your eyes and see rather ordinary-looking people performing magical, impossible sounds – How do they do it?!

Mahler score for his symphonies 5 & 6, spotted under the seat in front me

Mahler mania: Spotted under the seat in front of me

It’s good to close your eyes and listen more closely to music, but it’s also nice to be able to see what’s being done and by who. I could feel my brain expanding as I sat and listened, eyes open and shut, for over two hours to Mahler’s complex and extremely technical masterpiece.

And then, just like that—in one final swirling crescendo—it was over.

I’d like to catch the next public rehearsal in January, when the BSO will be performing Mozart.