Alban Gerhardt
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Jacobs Music Center/Copley Symphony Hall

750 B Street, Downtown San Diego

“It’s kind of like a road trip, you’ve gotta at least try.” I was trying to be jocular during intermission on Saturday night but the gentleman I was trying to engage with my humor stared straight ahead at the wall and totally ignored me.

Come on folks, I’m trying to lighten the mood here and get some energy going at the Symphony and the best you can do is stare uncomfortably at the wall? I guess it didn’t help that when I made my little comment I was addressing the man standing at the urinal next to mine. That might explain the “why on earth are you talking to me” stare he gave to the wall.

It was funny, though. I didn’t need to use the restroom, but Mahler’s Seventh Symphony was coming up so I at least tried — kind of like a road trip.

Before my awkward attempt at banter, we had heard an elegant performance of Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme. Cellist Alban Gerhardt played the solo part and took some big-time risks with his dynamics and tempi. No risk, no reward, and we were rewarded with a great performance of Tchaikovsky.

I was not aware of it during the concert but Gerhardt also came back out and played the Mahler Seventh with the cello section. Mind: blown.

What of Mahler’s Seventh? This piece of music that is difficult for performers and audiences alike? This “problem child”? It sounded like no problem to me. I had no difficulties with it. The orchestra wasn’t struggling with it. Where was all this drama?

I’m sure it was there and I’m sure the players were working but there was no clinging on for dear life. There was plenty of mastery and there was a balance between the sections that made the performance climb and climb and climb.

I’m going to give some of the credit for that balance to new principal trumpet Micah Wilkinson. His playing was hot. I understand that one player does not a performance make but a kick-ass trumpeter helps — especially in the finale movement.

The orchestra’s performance felt like it accomplished something. It felt as though we hadn’t so much gone a road trip together but like we had hiked the Muir Trail together. We experienced vistas and valleys and peaks and thirst and hunger and nights and days on an epic scale.

Mahler’s Seventh? No problem, we got this.

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