CAIRO: When Gilbert Kaplan first heard Gustav Mahler’s second symphony “Resurrection he fell in love with the music. “It wrapped its arms around me, he says. This captivation turned into “a love affair, to which he remains faithful to this day.
“I thought the best way to try and understand [the feeling of connection to this music] would be to learn it the way a conductor would learn it. To take it apart and put it back together, says Kaplan.
He thought this would help him understand why he had had such an emotional response to the music, and while he never found the answer to that question, his efforts have yielded results.
At the age of 40, he shared his passion with the world as he conducted the symphony for the first time. It was supposed to be his first and last time, but he received excellent reviews. New York’sDaily News described it as “one of the best performances ever heard of the symphony.
“They wrote some very wonderful things, as a result of which I am sitting here today in Cairo, he says; Kaplan will lead the Cairo Symphony Orchestra next Saturday in a performance of Mahler’s “Resurrection. An hour before the performance starts, he will give a lecture on Mahler’s life and music.
“You can’t separate Mahler the man from Mahler’s music. His music is so much related to what happened in his life . There is a very strong connection, he says.
A member of the Juilliard School (evening division), Kaplan has lectured widely on Mahler at Harvard and Oxford Universities, the Royal Academy of Music (London) and the Vienna Music Academy, and is also the founder of the Kaplan foundation, which is dedicated to the preservation of Mahler’s music.
With performances in over 50 orchestras around the world, Kaplan became an authority on Mahler’s “Resurrection. His participation at the Salzburg Festival was described by Time magazine as “a triumph for Kaplan that shook the concert hall to its granite foundations.
The New York Times and German Television ZDF selected his recording of the symphony with the London Symphony Orchestra as one of the Records of the Year. With more than 175,000 copies sold, it has become the best-selling Mahler recording in history.
Kaplan’s original career as publisher and former editor of Institutional Investor made his success with Mahler even more admirable. The Austrian composer is famous for his difficult music and his detailed instructions regarding the conducting of any piece he wrote.
“He was a great conductor himself, says Kaplan, who often quotes the late composer. “You start off with a very detailed road map. But then, this is very emotional music. Mahler is a very emotional composer and expresses great feelings in music … You have to bring your own life, your own experiences, your own passions to this music, adding that “Mahler said that everything that he had ever experienced in life is in this music. This is why, Kaplan explains, audiences usually relate to the music. “Although it is his story, it is also our story. We all have had these same moments of doubt or love or fear.
“I promise you on Saturday night there will be many people in the audience who will hear this for the first time [and] they will really be crying, comments Kaplan, “And it is not because they are sad. It’s because we often cry when we are happy. We often cry when something happens . It is just that Mahler is able to do this to people.
With obvious admiration of the composer and especially of his second symphony, Kaplan has never conducted another piece of music. “I didn’t study conducting to become a conductor. I studied conducting so that I could conduct this symphony. Laughing, he adds that “This is like a love affair and I’m quite faithful.
To be completely accurate, however, it must be noted that he once conducted the American national anthem as an opening to one of his performances.
Kaplan’s first contact with Egypt came with his other career. As a member of the Council on Foreign Affairs, he was in Cairo last year on a business visit. During a meeting where his background in media and music was explained, he was asked why he had never conducted in Cairo.
“I said I’ve never been invited. When the Minister of Culture learned of the situation, Kaplan received an invitation.
It is not the first time something of the sort has happened. “I was invited to conduct in Russia for the first time. So I divided my time there; I did an interview with President Gorbachev and then I changed my clothes and went over to the concert hall and I conducted my first rehearsal with the orchestra.
“There is a perfect example of dividing my time in those two worlds, Kaplan notes.