Tuesday, May 24, 2011: This is Classic!

Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, at a Prague press conference last week

This is Classic!

This photo (left) is — perhaps — classic Michael Tilson Thomas.

The music director of the San Francisco Symphony, founder and artistic director of the New World Symphony, and principal guest conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra came to Prague last week to conduct the San Francisco Symphony in two Mahler concerts as part of the Prague Spring music festival.

But he is also on a mission: to introduce you to Gustav (and Alma) Mahler.

How? With the two-hour DVD he created and narrates, a very human introduction to Mahler and his work. Keeping Score: Gustav Mahlerhas already been released in the US and is scheduled to be released in Prague, with Czech subtitles, this week.

So why is this composer / pianist and 10-time Grammy winner, who has conducted the major symphony orchestras of the world, appearing here with a plastic bag wrapped around his neck?

It’s a classic example of just how human, entertaining, and inspiring classical music can be.

At a press screening of Keeping Score: Gustav Mahler last week, he told the audience about his experience meeting Alma Mahler, the composer’s former wife.

Alma Mahler, bewitching even in 1909

Mr Tilson Thomas happened to have a small plastic shopping bag with him, which he began to stretch and roll as he began his anecdote. “I don’t have a scarf, so I’ll use this bag,” he said. He was about 11 years old, he recounted, when Alma Mahler came into his godfather’s Los Angeles bookstore to have some of Mahler’s manuscripts appraised.

Mr Tilson Thomas’ godfather introduced the boy to the exotic foreign woman, explaining that his godson was studying piano. “She had a scarf like this –” he held the plastic bag to his throat, turned in profile, and flung his head back — “and she turned like this with the scarf held over her neck. Which I now appreciate at my age.” The audience laughed.

He continued, imitating her accented voice, “‘So ~ young man! You are a pianist! Perhaps someday — who knows — you may be a composer. Or a conductor.’

“There she was, 70 or 80 years old, talking to an 11-year-old,” he said. “And she — flirted with me!” he said, still amazed. “She was actually provocative.”

It’s a classic story. And it shows that classical music is not necessarily something “up there” or “out there,” but a way to inspire and communicate, whether you are of an older generation aged 70 or 80 — or even just 11. — oo

– Mary Matz

Keeping Score: Gustav Mahler
If you want a taste of what the Keeping Score: Gustav Mahler DVD is like, you can watch a preview at http://www.keepingscore.org/interactive/gustav-mahler.

Photo Credits: Michael Tilson Thomas, Mary Matz; Alma Mahler, Alma-Mahler website

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