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Bocca di Lupo and Mahler 7,
A lucky season of summer festivals

by John Axelrod ©2015

With the summer festival season approaching, from Salzburg to Schleswig Holstein, and, inevitably, a succession of soirées, serenades and superstars, it is tempting to simply enjoy, picnic style, a lunch or dinner and drink or two and forget about the music actually being made. And, most of all, to hope for good luck and a night without rain.

Indeed, it is hard for musicians to compete with all the cicadas, rainclouds, cell phones, cars and circulation of spectators and still make interesting music. Indoor concert halls have better performance conditions, but, as it is summer, the call of the outdoors is louder than a Mahler fortissimo.

For performers, summer festivals present great challenges. The deafening noises and distracting heat can pose definite risks. Not to mention the difficulty in performing both core and contemporary repertoire often with limited rehearsals. Now try to perform Mahler’s 7th Symphony with all those external problems combined with the technical intensity of this 5 movement work. Good luck is not enough. A good wine may be the only motivation to attempt such an effort.

Speaking of good luck, the often said Toi Toi Toi in Germany is a rather funny expression in Italian. In bocca al lupo, roughly translated: “In the mouth of the wolf.” The response from the performer is to say: Crepi il Lupo, meaning, “Death to the wolf,” or “May the wolf kick the bucket. “ In essence, the whole point is to say, just before going on stage, “Good luck in not getting your head bit off.” I’d rather break a leg than get my head bit off. Mosquito bites during the concert are bad enough.

Interestingly, this Italian salutation changed somewhat from its origins. It was meant to suggest, in reference to Rome’s founding mother wolf, that being in her mouth provided security. There is a wonderful wine called Tormaresca Bocca di Lupo, which, with its 14.5% alcohol. does exactly that, providing absolutely a sense of “benessere” and well being,

For the public, drinking this red wine, made from the agnalico grape, and experiencing the imposing structure, great balance, suppleness, elegance and length, while listening to music with similar descriptions, like Mahler 7, an evening of absolute sensory enjoyment will certainly be ensured. Indeed, this is wine for a night to remember. The song of the night lasts long after the last sip.

One also never forgets the first time with Mahler 7. It may be considered the most difficult of Mahler symphonies, and remains less known to the public than the others, but it is a tour de force of continuity and complexity. The colors of mandolin and guitar, those serenading instruments, during the Nacht Musik 2, and the solo voices of the solo horn and solo violin in Nacht Musik 1, portray an intimate conversation that only the night can offer. The hyperventilation of the scherzo, the flowing funereal march of the 1st movement and the tenor horn solo, and the Haydn’esque surprises of the finale all create a unique impression that, when finally experienced, leaves no doubt. This is a masterpiece.

Bocca di Lupo is also a rather unknown wine, perhaps overshadowed by its Puglian neighbor, the popular Primitivo. But this wine, with dark ruby red color, and “continuous and complex in its succession of sensations,” is, like the 7th, perhaps a greater expression of creative mastery than most other wines. We all might be grateful during this summer festival season to receive the “In bocca al lupo” before going on stage to perform Mahler 7, but I think the gratitude will be greater to hear that sound of Bocca di Lupo poured into a post-concert glass. Zum Wohll!

John Axelrod
©Copyright 2015