Swan Heroes- Who you’re hearing on Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde and Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen

Whenever I buy a new rock or jazz record, I always look in the booklet for the names of the musicians before I even bother to check the names of the songs. I like to know who I’m listening to.

Perhaps this is why it has always bothered me that we don’t, generally speaking, do the same thing with classical CDs. If I hear a horn solo that makes me want to jump in a vat of steaming yak blood (that’s a good thing, for reasons I can’t explain), or a real roar coming from the double basses, I want to know who made that sound. In the age of DVDs and websites, it’s become a lot easier to find out who you’re hearing- at some point, I was able to transition from calling a godlike horn player in the Berlin Phil “the rockstar horn player with no neck” to calling him “Norbert Hauptmann, horn god.”

The great Norbert Hauptmann- lots of sound, not much neck

Economically, though, it’s nearly impossible to list all the musicians on an orchestral CD- booklet costs are one of the most expensive parts of CD production, and printing all those names takes up a lot of space, which translates into substantial costs. That said, eventually, I hope to be important enough (!) to persuade any record companies I’m lucky enough to work with that it’s worth the extra cost to include an accurate listing of the players on the disc in every booklet.

Meanwhile, there’s no economic reason to not to do it here at Vftp. We’ll start with the Orchestra of the Swan recording of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde and Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen as arranged for chamber ensemble by Arnold Schoenberg.

Robert Matthew-Walker’s only quibble in his rave review for International Record Review (“a slight drawback in the presentation of an otherwise perfect disc”), was the lack of a listing of the instrumentation of the two Schoenberg arrangements*. We can now go one step better, and let curious listeners know who is behind those exquisite oboe and flute solos or who the magician on the violin who makes all those Viennese slides so stunning in the first violin part. In this case, literally everyone on the disc is a soloist.  Someday I’ll get around to a detailed retelling of just how incredibly hard the musicians worked on this project in all the rehearsals and concert. I felt very lucky to be there.


Orchestra of the Swan:Mahler/Somm Records

November 2010



David Le Page 1st Violin
Shelley Van Loen 2nd Violin
Adrian Turner Viola
Chris Allan Cello
Meherban Gillett Double Bass
Diane Clark Flute
Victoria Brawn Oboe
David Campbell Clarinet
Philip Brookes Bassoon
David Garbutt Horn
Ed Cervenka Percussion
Matt Green Percussion
Jan Bradley Percussion
Eleanor Hodgkinson Piano
Christine Whiffen Harmonium/celeste
Kenneth Woods Conductor
Jon Rogers Manager

That last name on the list is just as important as mine or any of the players- our concert manager Jon Rogers is among the best in the business. Jon makes sure everything runs smoothly, and when it doesn’t that problems are sorted instantly and calmly without any disruption or delay. When you’re working on an incredibly tight schedule, you need someone with a cool head and strong nerves on site to make sure the musicians are all there and that everything is place to allow great music to happen.


* The instrumentation of the two works is:

Das Lied von der erde: string quintet (2 vn, va, vc, cb), woodwind quintet (fl, ob, cl, fg, hn), piano, harmonium/celeste, 3 percussionists

Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen: string quintet, fl, cl, harmonium, piano and percussion (glockenspiel and triangle)


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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at www.kennethwoods.net

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