Symphonly of not quite 500
By Peter Korn on Jun 05, 2006
Last week the amassed forces of the San Francisco Symphony, the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, the Pacific Boychoir, the San Francisco Girls Chorus, soprano Marisol Montalvo, soprano Elza van den Heever, soprano Jennifer Welch-Babidge, mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, mezzo-soprano Elena Manistina, tenor Anthony Dean Griffey, baritone James Johnson, and bass Raymond Aceto, under the baton of Maestro Michael Tilson Thomas, performed Mahler Symphony No. 8.
Called the Symphony of a thousand (which truly had over 1,000 performers on stage at the American premier), last Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday we performed it with 223 adult chorus members, 36 boys, 45 girls, 8 soloists, the 106 members of the symphony (augmented by an additional harp, an additioal bassoon, 7 antiphonal horns, glockenspiel, harmonium, organ, and mandolin), and a single conductor to keep us all together. The Contra Costa Times has a review in which they count 404 on stage (my count puts us at 420), and called the event "ONE OF THE BAY AREA'S most remarkable, ecstatic, emotionally draining, almost unbelievably thrilling and spectacular (you fill in the adjective) ongoing cultural events of the past several years". Joshua Kosman of the San Francisco Chronicle had high praise for the chorus, which he said was "singing with hushed intensity and superb balances". He also felt that the "children's choruses were splendidly delivered by Pacific Boychoir and the San Francisco Girls Chorus." Michael Steinberg's program notes from the printed program provide a wonderful introduction to the piece.
Speaking for myself, this is one of my favorite pieces to perform, especially with the San Francisco Symphony & Chorus. From the Chorus Mysticus (a nearly a capella section which the our chorus began singing facing inward, away from the audience), to the thundering finale, there is no other piece with as great a range of dynamics, vocal range, or intensity. And the feeling of singing in finale, with the incredible mass of sound all around you, is amazing and indescribable.