Minnesota Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä — Mahler Symphony No. 7 (Bis)
"It was a dream come true. And it's really miraculous that I can say that I play in my hometown, World-Class Orchestra. Most people don't get that opportunity."
Erich Rieppel is principle timpani with the Minnesota Orchestra. He won the position in 2018 at the age of 26. Nine days later his first gig was in a recording studio playing one of the most challenging parts for timpani in Mahler's Symphony No. 7!
I want to talk about when you joined Minnesota Orchestra in 2018. You were doing those audition residencies and then you were offered the position and you had 9 days to prepare for your first big experience this Mahler Symphony No. 7 recording. Can you share that story with us?
"So I was just just, you know, working like a mad man to make sure those trials went well. And that's all I was thinking about. I wasn't thinking about the future. I was just thinking about those two weeks, and like less than 10 minutes after the last performance. I was outside of Orchestra Hall, I was with my family, they were all there when Osmo Vänskä called me and said, "good news, we'd like to work with you".
I was just just shocked, basically, and he said, "we need you to start as soon as possible. We're doing this project in about a week. It's Mahler's Seventh Symphony. We're going to record it. Could you come play that?" And I was, again, just in shock, but I wasn't going to reject that offer, obviously, because it's such an incredible honor. But it's an incredibly daunting piece for timpanist particularly."
Can you explain why and give examples of where we might hear some of those really challenging parts?
"Sure, so the last movement kicks off with a tympani solo, which is pretty fun to play. And it's a popular excerpt for auditions for principal tympani auditions and for even festival auditions if you're a student.
That is really just the tip of the iceberg. There is so many bare moments where it's just the timpani playing and there's so many moments where the timpani is has a unique dynamic compared to everyone else. And so there are really moments in the first moment. The third movement has plenty of interesting, intricate timpani writing. The second movement has like a lot of melodic and more lyrical writing, and the last movement is just bombastic and almost suspiciously celebratory. And the timpani is playing almost the entire time.
And there are a lot of pitches that you have to change. And when you change a pitch on the timpani, it's not like you move your finger up on the fingerboard of a violin. You have to move the pedal with your feet to the exact correct spot so that it's, you know, perfectly in tune. And there are simply loads of pitches in the last movement and it's almost the entire time you're trying to play accurately for those 20 minutes."
The Minnesota Orchestra's new recording of this 7th symphony by Mahler clocks in at 77 minutes. That sounds like a workout; how do you stay focused the whole time?
"I think a lot of musicians focus on presence, practice presence so that you can perform that monster of a creation. And on a more humorous note, should go to the bathroom before you play a Mahler symphony, because it is a long haul. You don't want to be thinking about that in the middle of a Mahler symphony."
Principle timpani Erich Rieppel, with the Minnesota Orchestra ä conducting the sixth installment in their cycle of all ten symphonies of Gustav Mahler.
To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.