Resurrection! Program Notes cover

Resurrection! Program Notes

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In Mahler’s Second Symphony, the composer ponders the question of 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." This great masterpiece will be performed in celebration of John Alexander’s remarkable 45-year tenure as artistic director of Pacific Chorale.
Preview Talk with Alan Chapman included.
Continue on with A Tribute To John Alexander.
To learn more about Music Director Carl St.Clair, click here.

To learn more about the Pacific Chorale, please click here.





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Resurrection! Program Notes

CARL ST.CLAIR • CONDUCTOR

MARY WILSON • SOPRANO

MARGARET LATTIMORE • MEZZO-SOPRANO

PACIFIC CHORALE — JOHN ALEXANDER • ARTISTIC DIRECTOR

RESURRECTION

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)

Symphony No. 2 in C Minor (Resurrection)

Allegro maestoso

Andante moderato

In a quiet, owing motion

Primal Light: Very solemn, but simple

In the speed of the scherzo — Allegro energico —

Slow, mysterious

Mary Wilson

Margaret Lattimore

Pacific Chorale

This concert is performed without intermission

The Friday, June 9 concert is generously sponsored by the Pacific Symphony League.

The Saturday, June 10 concert is generously sponsored by Mary and Phil Lyons.

Preview Talk

Created before 1900, published in 1923. Artist Theo Zasche.

Preview Talk

Preview Talk with Alan Chapman

Audio

Symphony No. 2 in C Minor,

Symphony No. 2 in C Minor, "Resurrection"

GUSTAV MAHLER (1860–1911)

Instrumentation: 4 flutes, 4 oboes, 5 clarinets, 4 bassoons, 10 horns, 8 trumpets, 4 trombones, tuba, 2 sets of timpani, percussion, strings. Performance time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Background

The fascinating life of Gustav Mahler has been the subject of great literature—and a great deal of it, at that. From Thomas Mann's 1912 novella Death in Venice to the monumental four volume biography by Henri-Louis de La Grange, writers have provided a fascinating view of Mahler's talents, concerns and contradictions.

Still, no matter how deeply we contemplate his life and music, his complicated feelings about the symphony can stun modern listeners. They are a strange mixture of insecurity and faith, of fragile ego and his indestructible belief in his art.

In the 106 years since his death, Mahler has come to be celebrated as perhaps the greatest symphonist since Beethoven. But the recognition was long in coming. During his lifetime, Mahler had greater success as a conductor than as a composer, and even that was mitigated by problems in Vienna and New York City, where he became principal conductor of the Metropolitan Opera in 1907 and also led the New York Philharmonic.

Though his performances earned tremendous acclaim, his conflicts with the trustees of both organizations broke his spirit and damaged his health, and in 1911 he returned to Vienna, where he died of pneumonia that same year.

The magisterial 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, published in 1911, was known to provide authoritative explanations of anything worth explaining; its compilers did not see fit to include an article on Mahler. The highly respected New York paper the Herald Tribune, in noting Mahler's passing, was respectful of his achievements as a conductor, but noted "We cannot see how any of his music can long survive him."

Of course, critics of the past are easy targets for today's music fans—perhaps too easy when they pan the music that we have come to love. But in the case of Gustav Mahler, reading contemporary assessments of his compositions is fascinating.

The lack of popular enthusiasm that had greeted Mahler's Symphony No. 1 had taken him by surprise, and it was a worrisome development for him—not just a matter of public taste or current musical trends, but a signal that his broader ambitions for the symphonic form might not be understood by his audiences.

Though music historians tell us that he composed that work between late 1887 and the spring of 1888, it was really the culmination of an effort of years, incorporating music that Mahler had composed for early compositions. His belief in his own abilities as a composer remained unshaken, but not his confidence in his place in the music world.

Mahler, unlike Brahms, fully accepted his role as a post-Beethoven symphonist and viewed his symphonies as the embodiment of magisterial ideas. They can be heard as abstract expressions of transcendent beauty that seem to suspend time, but we hear more when we understand that all of Mahler's symphonies—especially those that, like No. 2, have sung texts—are explorations of the epistemological questions that the composer considered most important.

He is often described as death-obsessed; we could just as aptly call him life-obsessed. Mahler devoted his life to the creation of beauty, and he wanted to know what happens to our experience of beauty when we die. In his gloriously hopeful Second Symphony, he tells us that the beauty and our souls' experience of it are divine and eternal.

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911). His signature. Picture taken in the hall of the Opera of Vienna by Moritz Nähr.

This message has all the monumentality of Beethoven's Ninth, and its message is one that preoccupied Mahler as freedom and brotherhood did Beethoven. In fact, much of the poetry in the choral section of Mahler's Second were written by the composer himself.

What to Listen For

Mahler's sense of drama in music is an essential complement to his ability to explore large ideas in a way that suspends time, and we hear this in abundance in his Symphony No. 2. He surrounds us with sound that is magisterial yet sensuous—tense, languorous and triumphant by turns.

Though this symphony was catalyzed by the death of a friend and colleague, its music is actually a joyful affirmation… a radiant musical account of life triumphant. In listening to this symphony, we find that Mahler's reputation for symphonic gigantism is misleading.

Yes, his symphonies are long—this one can easily run two or three times as long as a typical performance of Mozart's "Jupiter" Symphony—and they require very large orchestras. But the music draws us inward with its long, suspended chords and introspective pacing.

The effect is far more personal than monumental; it's as if Mahler were drawing out our own deepest feelings about the afterlife. In the strings, the lingering harmonies often have a diaphanous quality, as if they had drifted to our ears from heaven. The stentorian bass and woodwind voices have the opposite effect, like clarion reminders of the eternal within our midst—a recurrent theme in German poetry.

In Mahler's formulation, the contemplation of death is the gateway to our understanding of the divine, so it was natural for him to frame the first movement of this symphony as a stand-alone symphonic poem called Totenfeier ("Funeral Rites").

But when he became unsure of whether to keep it in that form or to make it a more conventional opening movement, he sought advice from his friend Hans von Bülow, a distinguished conductor. The bewildered and unaccepting Bülow did not provide much help—reportedly keeping his hands over his ears as Mahler demonstrated at the keyboard. Yet somehow the two retained their mutual respect, and in 1893 Mahler launched into the second and third movements.

As the symphony was taking shape, its overall form was still unclear—especially in its final sections. Then, in 1894, Bülow died, and Mahler heard a setting of Klopstock's Resurrection Hymn at the memorial service.

"It struck me like lightning," he wrote, "and everything was revealed to my soul clear and plain." Combining the first two stanzas of Klopstock's hymn with additional verses of his own, Mahler gives us a choral testament on the themes of final judgment and resurrection in the symphony's finale.

After the stormy "funeral rites" opening movement, the second movement offers idyllic, dancing themes. (Mahler called for a long pause between these two very different sections, allowing us—and the orchestra—to "shift gears.")

In the third movement, enthusiasts will recognize music borrowed from his beautiful song cycle Des Knaben Wunderhorn ("the child's magic horn") crafted into a leisurely scherzo.

As we transition to the fourth movement, with its mezzosoprano soloist, the music's focus seems to shift from the pleasures of temporal life to the splendors of the eternal. Again, we hear a charming melody from the Wunderhorn.

The orchestration seems to shift to textures that are intimate yet celestial, accompanying the sung text with clarinets, glockenspiel, harp and solo violin. This smaller scale vocal offering prepares us for the monumentality of the chorale in the symphony's fifth and final movement, a thrilling challenge for any chorus.

Des Knaben Wunderhorn, which provides the first section of text, is Mahler's tender song cycle that includes settings of anonymous German folk poems. It dates from the same period of Mahler's life as the Symphony No. 2.

Gustav Mahler when he was a child; this photo was published in: Specht, Richard (1913) Gustav Mahler, Berlin and Leipzig: Schuster and Loeffler, pp. Plate 2

In the innocence of childhood, Mahler saw a window into eternity and the divine. (He also uses a child's view of heaven in a vocal section of his Symphony No. 4.) Like Wagner, Mahler freely provided his own texts, as in his Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen ("songs of a wayfarer").

Counting the lines and assessing their sources, we find that the poetry that Mahler chooses for the vocal sections of this symphony is mostly his own. This is not the German lyric tradition of Goethe, Heine and Schiller, and it has a childlike directness that may seem at odds with the sophistication of the symphony itself. But it is in keeping with the Lutheran tradition of Bach's cantatas, which Mahler knew well.

The Jewish-born Mahler was forced to adopt Christianity to pursue his musical career and later averred that he could not truthfully compose a Mass, though he was buried in a Catholic cemetery. In this symphony, his use of verse seems compatible with German and Christian tradition while avoiding specific reference to Christian iconography.

Primeval Light

O little red rose!

Humankind lies in greatest need!

Humankind lies in greatest pain!

Much rather would I be in Heaven!

Then I came onto a broad path;

And an angel came and wanted to turn me away.

But no, I would not be turned away!

I am from God and would return to God!

The dear God will give me a little light,

Will light me to eternal, blissful life.

Resurrection

Rise again, yes, you will rise again,

My dust, after brief rest!

Immortal life! Immortal life

Will He, who called you, grant you.

To bloom again, you were sown!

The Lord of the Harvest goes

And gathers like sheaves,

Us, who died.

O believe, my heart, believe:

Nothing will be lost to you!

Yours, yes, yours is what you longed for,

Yours what you loved,

What you fought for!

O believe:

You were not born in vain!

You have not lived in vain, nor suffered!

All that has come into being must perish!

All that has perished must rise again!

Cease from trembling!

Prepare to live!

O Pain, piercer of all things!

From you I have been wrested!

O Death, conqueror of all things!

Now you are conquered!

With wings I won for myself,

In love’s ardent struggle,

I shall fly upwards

To that light which no eye has penetrated!

I shall die so as to live!

Rise again, yes, you will rise again,

My heart, in the twinkling of an eye!

What you have conquered,

Will bear you to God!

Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection" (Lucerne Festival Orchestra, Claudio Abbado)

Video: 1 hour 23 minutes

Recorded live at the Lucerne Festival, Summer 2003

Culture and Convention Centre Lucerne, 21 August 2003

Video

Meet the Guest Artists!

Meet the Guest Artists!

MARY WILSON - SOPRANO

Soprano Mary Wilson is acknowledged as one of today's most exciting artists, with Opera News heralding her first solo recording, Mary Wilson Sings Handel, as one of their “Best of the Year.” Cultivating a wide-ranging career singing chamber music, oratorio and operatic repertoire, her “bright soprano seems to know no terrors, wrapping itself seductively around every phrase.”

Wilson has most-recently appeared with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Los Angeles Master Chorale, National Symphony of Costa Rica, Colorado Symphony, Colorado Music Festival and at Carnegie Hall and the Hollywood Bowl. With the IRIS Chamber Orchestra, she sang the world premiere of the song cycle “Songs Old and New” written especially for her by Ned Rorem. She was named an “Emerging Artist” by Symphony Magazine.

An exciting interpreter of Baroque repertoire, she has appeared with American Bach Soloists, Bach Society of St. Louis and the Carmel Bach Festival. On the opera stage, she is noted for her portrayals of Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos, Susannah in Le Nozze di Figaro and Gilda in Rigoletto. She has created leading roles in world-premiere performances of Dove’s Flight, Glass’ Galileo Galilei and Petitgirard’s Joseph Merrick dit Elephant Man. Wilson holds vocal performance degrees from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., and Washington University in St. Louis, Mo. She is an assistant professor of voice at the University of Memphis, Tenn. and resides in Memphis.

MARGARET LATTIMORE -MEZZO-SOPRANO

Grammy-nominated mezzo-soprano Margaret Lattimore has been praised for her “glorious instrument” and dubbed an “undisputed star…who has it all – looks, intelligence, musicianship, personality, technique and a voice of bewitching amber color,” by The Boston Globe. While she began her career singing the florid works of Händel, Rossini and Mozart, Lattimore expanded her repertoire in recent seasons to include those of Mahler, Verdi and Wagner, making her one of the most versatile mezzo-sopranos performing today.

Lattimore has become an audience and critic favorite for her one-of-a-kind portrayals throughout her repertoire. The Houston Chronicle wrote of her performance in Verdi’s Requiem, “Mezzosoprano Margaret Lattimore’s vocals were distinguished by her rare intensity, gleaming pure tone and strong dramatic instincts.” Later that season at The Metropolitan Opera, Opera News, called her a “juicy Praskowia” in The Merry Widow.

Lattimore’s recent concert engagements include Messiah with the Philadelphia Orchestra; Verdi’s Requiem with the Houston Symphony and The New Choral Society; Berenice with the American Symphony at Carnegie Hall; and Brahms’ Alto Rhapsody and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with Sinfonica Nacional de Mexico and the Louisiana Philharmonic.

Lattimore is a graduate of the Crane School of Music at the State University of New York at Potsdam and winner of the Eleanor McCollum Award from the Houston Grand Opera Studio and the prestigious Vienna Award from the George London Foundation.

JOHN ALEXANDER

ARTISTIC DIRECTOR OF PACIFIC CHORALE

Artistic Director of Pacific Chorale since 1972, John Alexander is one of America’s most respected choral conductors. His inspired leadership both on the podium and as an advocate for the advancement of the choral art has garnered national and international admiration and acclaim. Alexander’s long and distinguished career has encompassed conducting hundreds of choral and orchestral performances nationally and in 27 countries around the globe.

He has conducted his singers with orchestras throughout Europe, Asia and South America and, closer to home, with Pacific Symphony, Pasadena Symphony, Musica Angelica and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.

Equally versatile whether on the podium or behind the scenes, Alexander has prepared choruses for many of the world’s most outstanding orchestral conductors, including Zubin Mehta, Pierre Boulez, Seiji Ozawa, Michael Tilson Thomas, Leonard Slatkin, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Gustavo Dudamel, Lukas Foss, Max Rudolf, Carl St.Clair, Gerard Schwarz, Marin Alsop, John Mauceri, John Williams and Keith Lockhart.

Alexander’s numerous awards include the “Michael Korn Founders Award for Development of the Professional Choral Art” from Chorus America (2008); The “Distinguished Faculty Member” award from California State University, Fullerton (2006); the Helena Modjeska Cultural Legacy Award (2003); the “Outstanding Individual Artist” Award (2000) from Arts Orange County; the “Gershwin Award” (1990), presented by the County of Los Angeles in recognition of his cultural leadership; and the “Outstanding Professor” Award (1976) from California State University, Northridge.

Continue on with A Tribute To John Alexander.

To learn more about Music Director Carl St.Clair, click here.

To learn more about the Pacific Chorale, please click here.