Music to Live For

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Last summer when I asked the symphony musicians what concerts they were especially anticipating in the 15/16 season, this week’s Ravel, Vivier, Mahler program was high on most lists–No. 2 behind the John Adams Saxophone Concerto and Mahler Symphony No. 5 weekend at Powell and then on the California tour.

Gustav Mahler by Emil Orlik, 1902
Gustav Mahler by Emil Orlik, 1902

The primary reason is the Mahler, the Fourth Symphony, which double bassist David DeRiso describes as the “softer, lighter side of Mahler…. It’s all the swagger of Mahler but with all the pastoral brilliance scaled down.” Horn player Chris Dwyer calls the Fourth “both utterly joyful and sorrowful. The symphony plays right into this orchestra’s strengths,” he adds. “It would be a mistake to miss this one.” Dwyer’s section colleague Julie Thayer concurs, speaking for both Mahler symphonies: “horn players live for that stuff.”

But there are other reasons this program is so popular to the musicians–soprano Susanna Phillips returns to sing Vivier’s Lonely Child and in the final movement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 4. This is her first time back since the orchestra’s historic triumph with Britten’s Peter Grimes at Carnegie Hall in 2013. And the childhood themes that run throughout the show: Mother Goose tales, a child’s dreams of comfort and a vision of heaven. Concertmaster David Halen calls the three works “masterpieces from entirely different soundscapes. I can’t imagine a more incredible program than this.”