At the end of the third movement of Gustav Mahler's "Symphony No. 5" Saturday night, Lexington Philharmonic music director Scott Terrell's baton arm fell. And so did his head. And his shoulders. And his body just slightly compressed, in unison with the more than 80 musicians before him, and even a lot of us in the audience.
At this point, we had come 50 minutes, as far as most symphonies go. And we all would have been more than content to give this performance a rousing ovation and head to West Sixth to give Terrell's ninth season with the Phil a well deserved toast.
But this was Mahler. He wasn't done. Not even close.
We still had the fourth movement Adagietto, only occasionally less delicate that Elaine Humphreys Cook's harp playing, which the movement hung on, and then the punchy Rondo-Finale that sparked an ovation that brought Terrell back to the stage three times.
It was a performance that exemplified how far Terrell has brought Lexington's orchestra since taking the baton in the Summer of 2009.
In 2007, I was in New York for an NEA-sponsored fellowship in classical music journalism. Part of the program was attending a lot of concerts, and one that has always stayed with me was a performance of Mahler's "Symphony No. 2 'Resurrection'" at Carnegie Hall by the Cleveland Orchestra. It had been quite a while since I heard Mahler live, and the evening was intoxicating, but also left me somewhat lamenting that Mahler wasn't something really being done in Lexington.
It was around that time that the search was beginning for a new Philharmonic music director, a search that in just over a year would bring us Terrell.
In the subsequent years, Terrell has made the orchestra his own, boosting the quality of the playing as my sharper-eared colleagues Loren Tice and Tedrin Blair Lindsay have documented over his tenure — both through new hires and continued associations with players who were on the Singletary Center stage long before he arrived. Terrell has brought us large doses of new music (in classical music terms), living composers and even commissions such as last fall's world premiere of a new work by Chris Brubeck for the Canadian Brass and orchestra. In Terrell's hands, the Philharmonic has become part of the national conversation about what is happening in music.
But Terrell has not ignored major, time-honored works and set some as milestone pieces for the Phil, including the Mahler Fifth. Though not as large in personnel scale as, say, the "Resurrection" symphony, it is an all-hands-on-deck work for orchestral musicians that puts specific demands on the players to convey the work's power and emotion.
It was all there Saturday, the symphony's distinctive texture and drive that frequently pulled us from the backs of our chairs to the edges of our seats.
The concert also included the quick intro "To Music" by John Corigliano and, as part of the mass celebration of the centennial of Leonard Bernstein's birth, his "Three Meditations from 'Mass,'" featuring an arresting solo cello performance from Joseph Johnson and extremely deft playing by the orchestra.
That Johnson took a back seat in the cello section to join the performance of Mahler's Fifth was yet another testament to the power of the work. In Terrell's perception, programming the symphony was a tribute to Bernstein the conductor, who was a great champion of Mahler's work. In that context Terrell paid both the composer and conductor mighty tributes making this and similar works things that are now done in Lexington.
Saturday night's concert will be broadcast at 7 p.m. Sunday on WEKU-FM 88.9.