A big sound for a big send off

Crop of HRO PosterWhat better way to celebrate the retirement of two powerful faculty house deans than a performance of Mahler's Symphony No. 9. The HRO vice president and bassoonist talks about the deans, the music and the concert on Oct. 5.

By William Swett

Eli Holmes ‘21 is a Mahler enthusiast. He is also a passionate bassoonist in the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra, which will perform Mahler's Syphony No. 9 at 8 p.m. Saturday, October 5 at Sanders Theatre. Not only will event feature one of Holmes' favorite composers, but it will also honor former Lowell House deans Diana Eck and Dorothy Austin, who made enormous contributions to the music community during their 21 years of service. Holmes, who is vice president of HRO, and a student in the Harvard/NEC dual degree program, explained why Mahler 9 is the perfect way to celebrate the legacy of Eck and Austin. 

This is your third year in HRO. Compared to other concerts, what’s special about Mahler 9?
This concert is in celebration of Diana Eck and Dorothy Austin, who were long-time and much-loved faculty deans of Lowell House. Mahler 9 is a fittingly celebratory and enormous piece that speaks to how important they have been, and it is a fitting way to say goodbye to them. They have always been very committed to the arts at Harvard. Lowell House is sponsoring this concert, and they have sponsored many other arts initiatives on campus.

Is there something musically people should listen for in this concert?
There’s a great bassoon solo in the fourth movement. Two minutes in, everything gets quiet, and it’s really beautiful.

How has the orchestra come together this past month?
Mahler 9 is one of the most challenging pieces in the repertoire, both mentally and physically. It requires a huge amount of endurance from every section. The last movement is one of the slowest and most exhausting things to play. It trickles away because the music itself understands how tiring and exhausting it is, so it just falls away. It took us a long time as an organization to find the endurance for it. I think it also took us a certain amount of time to get in the headspace of it. It’s a very different headspace. While all classical music is serious, Mahler takes itself so seriously sometimes that it can come off as funny when it’s not meant to be. So you have to suspend humor and the idea of the kitsch to understand Mahler, and take it as seriously as he’s asking to.

How has the conductor Federico Cortese inspired the orchestra?
He has been a strong mentor, almost a personal father figure whom we all look up to. Federico Cortese is excellent at this because he understands the warm distance between a conductor and an ensemble, which leads an ensemble members to be their best.

HRO will perform Mahler's Symphony No. 9 at 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 5 at Sanders Theatre. Admission is free for all students. Community members can purchase tickets here or at the door (two hours prior to performance).