Before the CSO delves into its cycle of all four of Brahms’ symphonies, starting with the first and second this Thursday, Maestro Muti had an open rehearsal of the first two movements of Brahms’ 3rd Symphony with the Civic Orchestra. This marks the second and last open rehearsal with Civic this ’16-’17 season. As usual, I always come away after these rehearsals having learned a lot, whether about the composer, the score, or other “random” tidbits that Maestro Muti shares (most often humorous vignettes from his long career). Here are some of my favorite highlights:
1.) Maestro Muti mentioned how Brahms 3rd is the least played of the four, as it ends softly. Relating to this point, when Maestro Muti was music director of the Philharmonia Orchestra in London, there was another famous conductor (who remains unidentified to us!) in London who apparently paired Brahms 3rd with the Tannhauser overture. The next day, in The Times, apparently the review said the whole concert was “vulgar”!
2.) Comparing Sir Thomas Beecham vs. Arturo Toscanini: Apparently, Beecham would always ask the orchestra to “sing out a little more” whereas Toscanini would shout, “CANTA, CANTA!” (in addition to some swear words…). Relating to this, Maestro Muti noted that Toscanini always said that every note, large or small, should sing.
3) Maestro Muti, as usual, emphasized the importance of controlling dynamics. In one case, he went over the vast differences between the mezzo voce and sotto voce markings, which isn’t usually emphasized.
4) Maestro Muti made sure to mention that although Brahms was born in Hamburg, he is practically Viennese (there’s an awesome monument of him by the Musikverein!!) and embodies the Viennese culture, therefore making him closer to Schubert. As a result, his music must be considered in a liederistic respect, almost chamber-like, rather than this huge sound that has come to characterize Germanic composers. Brahms’ music should also be played with a certain cloudiness (without any sunshine). Finally, to reinforce the Viennese connection, in the first movement of the 3rd symphony, Maestro Muti would frequently exclaim “Walzer, walzer!” to remind the players that a certain elegance and grace associated with Viennese waltzes, albeit not necessarily “sunny”, should characterize various phrases within the movement.