Incessant coo coos and the simple Frère Jacques tune, twisted by Mahler into a sinister melody, bounced relentlessly through my brain resulting in a fitful sleep last night. In spite of that, my immersion into Mahler's First Symphony through a 3+ hour presentation by The Philadelphia Fans of Classical Music (PFCM) Meetup group was an experience I'd repeat again in a heartbeat.
The presentation began with the recently aired (PBS) introduction to Mahler's First Symphony by composer of the San Francisco Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT) in his wonderful "Keeping Score" series. The series is also available on DVD and Blu-ray, though be forewarned that the Blu-ray version has been problematic with some players, so the DVD version is probably a safer bet. MTT has Mahler in his blood and his obvious enthusiasm for the composer captivates the viewer. The producers of the video did an outstanding job of splicing directly between folk, brass band, and even natural sound influences, and their corresponding excerpts in the symphony. MTT also wove Mahler's history and details of the town in which he grew up into the video. If you have not had the pleasure of viewing this series, put it on the top of your list!
The video was followed by a brief social/snack break and then a discussion that was facilitated by the leaders of the meeting: Ricky and Ralph. They had prepared a selection of thought provoking questions and some excerpts of Mahler's music to match, but the group of 13 passionate classical music fans had so much to offer that the questions were hardly necessary. I've had the pleasure of attending a few PFCM meetups and I'm always impressed by their ability to discuss very intellectual material without a trace of snobbery or arrogance. First time visitors with a rudimentary knowledge of classical music are welcomed and engaged in discussion as equals; and this is a rare quality.
The afternoon culminated with the video presentation of the complete performance of Mahler's First Symphony by the San Francisco Symphony in an immersive surround sound format. Experiencing the full, uninterrupted, symphony directly following the extended introduction bound the whole presentation together.
The Philadelphia Fans of Classical Music is an active group that more typically concentrates on facilitated discussions related to upcoming concerts, but in this off-season, the video heavy format was perfect. The meetings are usually small (15-20) because they are often held in member's houses. This provides a wonderfully comfortable and intimate setting for discussion. They also sometime meet for dinner prior to some concerts. Details are limited for non-members on their Meetup page to protect the privacy of the people hosting the events, but you are welcome to join and experience a meetup first-hand.