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Gustav Mahler’s Powerhouse Second Symphony Brings Pacific Symphony’s 2016-17 Season to a Breathtaking Close, While Celebrating John Alexander’s Final Musical Moments
Orange County, Calif. — May 19, 2017
In true fashion, Pacific Symphony ends its 2016-17 season with a concert designed to make a lasting impression. In the spotlight is Mahler’s epic Second Symphony, in which the composer ponders nothing less than life, death and transcendence—and in so doing pens some of his most sublime music. Meditating on these questions required Mahler to compose the largest symphony ever known at that time—with massive instrumental and vocal forces, daring harmonic structure and expansive length—all to astonishing effect. As the composer once said, “The term ‘symphony’ means creating a world with all the technical means available.” Led by Music Director Carl St.Clair, this spectacular masterpiece is performed in celebration of local luminary John Alexander’s remarkable 45-year tenure as artistic director of Pacific Chorale.
“Our final concert of this season—which coincides with the final concert we will do in John Alexander’s long and illustrious tenure with the Pacific Chorale—had to include John and the Chorale,” states Maestro St.Clair. “This was a must! The fact that this is his final season is in part why we did ‘Aida’ earlier in the season and are closing with Mahler’s Symphony No. 2—in honor of this great talent,” says St.Clair. “What better work than Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’ to share with our dear friend John?”
Featuring world-class soloists Mary Wilson, soprano, and Margaret Lattimore, alto, as well as the mighty Pacific Chorale, “Resurrection!” takes place Thursday through Saturday, June 8-10, at 8 p.m., in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. A preview talk with Alan Chapman begins at 7 p.m. The concert is performed without intermission, and there will be no Plazacast this year because of construction for the new Argyros Plaza. Tickets are $25-$125 (Box Circle, $195).
Also, the Symphony’s Sunday Casual Connections revisits Maher’s 90-minute magnum opus on Sunday, June 11, at 3 p.m., in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. Tickets are $25-$98. For more information or to purchase tickets for any performance, please call (714) 755-5799 or visit www.PacificSymphony.org.
“The last time we performed Mahler’s Second with Carl and the Symphony was in 2007 for the opening season of our magnificent new home in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall,” recalls the Chorale’s long-time artistic director, Alexander. “Carl is a masterful conductor of Mahler, and I cannot think of a more fitting close to our partnership over the last 27 years. I thank Carl for choosing the magnificent ‘Resurrection’ Symphony for this closing concert.”
Mahler’s Second is a monumental symphony on the grandest scale and—reminiscent of Beethoven’s Ninth—it culminates in an exhilarating chorus that sings of man’s highest hopes and heavenly visions. The work takes the audience on an incredible journey, from death and dissolution to renewal and redemption, while encompassing nothing less than life’s greatest questions. It is the composer’s existential quest for understanding, and it’s a true tour-de-force for the orchestra, singers and audience alike.
“We didn’t do any Mahler last season, and I just can’t fathom going another season without something by him for our musicians and our audience,” reflects St.Clair. “When planning the end of our season, I am always looking for those works that can sustain everyone’s excitement and enjoyment through the summer and will hold our ‘family’ together in anticipation of the opening concert of the following season. Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 is just such a masterwork. It is a breathtaking way to conclude the season and a sure way to stay in everyone’s heart.”
The Second Symphony did not come easily to Mahler, who suffered from writer’s block, and while begun in 1888, it was not completed until 1894. But along the way, he heard a setting of Klopstock’s “Resurrection Ode” at the funeral of the conductor Hans von Bülow, which helped him finish his audacious five-movement piece of concert-hall theater. Part choral symphony, part oratorio, it plunged in the most spectacular way into the whole monumental question of immortality. Using immense forces, Mahler ended up dramatizing in music mankind’s struggle for eternal salvation.
As he wrestled with his Second, Mahler pondered: “What was the purpose of struggling through life whilst alive? After death would any meaning for life be revealed? Was there salvation or damnation awaiting?”
The opening of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 was completed in 1888 as “Totenfeier” (Funeral Rites), a stormy symphonic poem to send the hero of Mahler’s First Symphony to his grave amid torment over the meaning of his life. The first movement, Allegro
maestoso, is an anguished cry at the universe, as Mahler begins his search for understanding and meaning. The composer originally wrote the first movement as a stand-alone piece, and only added movements five years after he wrote the first.
The middle movements waited until Mahler’s summer vacation in 1893 and reflected his fascination with the same medieval folk poetry that provided the texts for most of his songs. The second movement, Andante moderato, is a nostalgic, if bittersweet, look back at happier times. The third movement, “In quietly flowing motion” churns along almost mechanically, as Mahler (by his own admission) ruminates on the meaningless nature of life. The fourth movement, “Urlicht” (Primal Light), is a song in response to those despairing thoughts, as it expresses hope that life isn’t just empty and pointless, after all, but full of beauty and meaning.
The dramatic and chaotic fifth and final movement, “In the speed of the scherzo” is the full about-face for Mahler and his hero—it’s an expression of hope and optimism—and while expressed in religious terms, it somehow manages to transcend into something more universal. It is here that the audience experiences some of the most powerful and life-affirming climaxes ever heard.
“My 27-year collaboration with John, both as colleague and friend, has been most rewarding,” reflects St.Clair. “I have been deeply blessed to have had his confidence and friendship during all these years together. Most of the major recording projects and many of the formative moments in the life of Pacific Symphony have involved and have been partnered with John and Pacific Chorale. I’m so glad we will have this amazing experience to share together and with so many others.”
Pacific Symphony’s Classical Series is made possible by the Hal and Jeanette Segerstrom Family Foundation, and receives additional support from The Westin South Coast Plaza, KPCC, KUSC and PBS SoCal.
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