The Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra ended its season Friday night with an ambitious concert of two well-known masterworks preceded by a short 21st century piece. Music director and conductor Scott Terrell was on point throughout the evening leading the difficult...
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Review: With ‘Mahler 2,’ Philharmonic goes really big to open its season
To open the Lexington Philharmonic’s 2015-16 season, conductor and music director Scott Terrell opted for a sense of ceremony. Hence the choice of Gustav Mahler’s epic Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection,” a work that will incorporate the contributions of four regional collegiate choirs and a legion of additional instrumentalists and vocalists — an alliance that will put nearly 300 performers onstage Friday night at the Singletary Center for the Arts.
The word Terrell uses to explain the symphony’s scale? Try “magnanimous.”
“It’s more of what I like to call an occasion piece,” he says. “You simply don’t pop it down in the middle of the year.
“I’ve always said openings should be uplifting. I don’t think there is a more optimistic work than this particular symphony. But I also programmed this to kind of see where we are as an orchestra, to see how far we’ve come in the last couple of years. Mahler generally requires a much more intense level of concentration. The architecture of this work, though, is almost overwhelming. It’s a marathon, really, to start off the year.”
Known as the Resurrection Symphony — or as the Philharmonic succinctly terms it, Mahler 2 — the piece is largely viewed as the composer’s most popular and enduring work. Employing themes and inspirations of the afterlife, the symphony was composed between 1888 and 1894. Personal tragedies later in Mahler’s life (his daughter’s death from scarlet fever and his own failing health due to endocarditis) could be seen shading subsequent music, but Resurrection was the work of a youthful and profoundly optimistic artist.
“With Mahler 2 comes this enormously gifted musician who, already at this point, had a reputation as a great conductor. Later in his life, it was much more obvious he is struggling with his own sense of reality, the sense of his own death and health. This piece, to me, is much more a view of a young composer just beginning to come to grips with his life, but optimistically looking to the idea of resurrection.
“Mahler was a Jewish composer-conductor, so I don’t view this as the sort of resurrection ideal that we think of with Messiah and other things. There is a degree of spirituality, but I don’t sense that heavy religious overtone. So for me, it’s more about the optimism of somebody starting to explore the idea that we’re all not here forever. I view it through the prism of a very inspired, optimistic and still relatively young composer before the real difficulty of his life began to weigh on him.”
Mounting Mahler 2 began more than 18 months ago, when Terrell contacted choirs from Transylvania University, Eastern Kentucky University, Asbury University and Berea College. But the symphony also calls for two prominent soloists (which, Friday night, will be soprano Karen Slack and mezzo soprano J’nai Bridges) and an offstage section of trumpets and percussion designed to create, literally, the effect of music heard from a distance during Mahler 2‘s final movement.
Terrell terms the Philharmonic’s massive support group for the symphony as “auxiliary forces.”
“I asked the (combined) chorus how many people had ever sung Mahler 2,” Terrell says. “Not a single hand went up. We have 180 college kids who have never sung the piece. So what we have is an opportunity for these students to really have a life-changing experience. For many of these kids, this may be the only time they will ever do this. But the impact it will make will be one they will never forget.
“That’s true for many of our players in the Philharmonic, too. I would say the majority of our orchestra has not played Mahler 2. They all know it. They all know of it. They have all been to concerts and heard it. But playing it presents a very different challenge, a very different exercise. What I sensed as we planned it and began to implement the rehearsals was the sheer reverence that everybody has for the piece. They take such seriousness in their preparation that you can’t help but feel that something really wonderful is going to happen onstage on Friday.”
Read Walter Tunis’ blog, The Musical Box, at LexGo.com.
By Walter Tunis
Photo courtesy Rich Copley
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