Mahler Eighth: grand delight

Dan Rodricks

June 17, 1991|By Dan Rodricks

Pieces of column too short to use . . . To what experience can I compare my first live hearing of thMahler Eighth Symphony, performed beautifully, fantastically over the weekend by a cast of 450 musicians at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall? It was pure, unfiltered tonic. But what brand?

Was hearing this enormous musical masterpiece like seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time? Or should I compare the experience of the Mahler Eighth to that day in Florence among the working-class bus tourists who gathered around, then wept at Michaelangelo's David? Was it equal in impact to a visit to the Sistine Chapel? Was it like standing in the Lincoln Memorial that day the Vietnamese boy recited the words to the Gettysburg Address? Was it as emotional as the visit to the German soldiers' cemetery at La Cambe in Normandy? Was it as passionate as "Henry the Fifth"? Was it Babette's Feast? It could have been Pavarotti singing "Nessun Dorma," but only if he were caught singing it at night on a mysterious purple mountain. It could have been a Frank Robinson home run, but only in the bottom of the ninth with bases loaded, and only if Frank hit this particular home run at a time, past his prime, when no one expected it.

Do I go too far? Perhaps it is unfair, or unwise, to attempt to make such comparisons. Each of life's enormous experiences deserves to be judged on its own, to be appreciated within the moment and space of its occurrence, then savored.

But the BSO's performance of the Mahler Eighth was probably a once-in-a-lifetime event for Baltimore. It will likely be a generation or two before we hear it at the Meyerhoff again. It is so huge, so wonderfully excessive and, at moments, so breathtakingly quiet -- such a feast of concepts and expression -- that it belongs in a personal Valhalla of grand delights. Ah, to be David Zinman -- atop his three-foot podium, hands poised, shoulder muscles taught -- at that silent split-second just before the first chord . . . that's living!

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District Court is a great place for a beginner's course in criminal justice. Just ask the young Morgan State student named Dante. He and his girlfriend had a fight. She filed charges. He went to Western District Court. May 30, the judge found Dante guilty. Dante was annoyed. He was confused. He looked up at the judge and said: "Since we were hitting EACH OTHER, I don't understand why I'm the one found guilty." Yeah, your honor, what about it?

Well, it's really very simple. Dante's girlfriend could not be found guilty of assault because she was not charged with assault. If Dante wanted to press charges, he could. After getting this lecture -- and probation before judgment -- Dante took a seat in the courtroom and stewed, undoubtedly thoughts of Payback bubbling in his head.

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Can I have a show of hands? How many of you know how to program a VCR?

Uh, huh. Just what I thought: About the same number who voted for Dukakis.

Well, now available for us morons who never figured out how to program our video cassette recorders -- or never bothered with the instruction guide -- there's VCR-Plus, a hand-held gadget that allows you to program your VCR by merely entering special code numbers found in the TV listings of the daily newspapers. Is this a great country, or what? They've come up with a new gadget -- costing about 60 bucks -- to help us master the last gadget we couldn't master. What's next? Microwave-Plus? You look up the special code number on a pot roast at the grocer's, punch the code into the Microwave-Plus, stick the meat into the oven and, voila, your pot roast is ready a week from Wednesday.

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I've finally decided on The Most Frequently Stated Phrase of the was: "In case we get cut off, let me give you that extension . . ."

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A few years ago, Paul Dickson, Maryland author and jolly raconteur, published a book called "Family Words," a dictionary of strange words and expressions developed by families, unique to each, and passed from generation to generation. When my mother, the former Rose Popolo, reaches for a word and can't find it, she fills in the blank with "jiggers," as when, the morning after hubcaps were stolen from my brother's car: "Eddie, wake up! Your jiggers are missing!" Also, Rosie's children -- and now her grandchildren -- "boon their eggs" when they dip a piece of toast into fried hen fruit. Send in your family words; we'll pass them along to Dickson.

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