“Never again will I attain such depths and heights,” Gustav Mahler wrote much later in life of his Symphony No. 2 in C Minor. The grand opus, popularly known as the Resurrection Symphony, begins with a funeral march – a serious one, nothing like the comic procession of animals set to an off-key version of “Frère Jacques” featured in his First. Then it works its way through reminiscences of happy times in the life of the deceased and angst over the cumulative meaninglessness of worldly existence to a cry of longing for release from pain and despair. It ends most spectacularly, in an uplifting 38-minute scherzo movement with a chorus in the middle that is often admiringly compared to the “Ode to Joy” climax of Beethoven’s Ninth. “You were not born for nothing!” sings the chorus – in German, of course; but we get the message.
Mahler’s Second is a monumental work calling for a huge ensemble – including “the largest possible contingent of strings,” per the composer’s notes, plus a cluster of extra brass and percussion lurking offstage – in order to attain its intended impact. The tenth anniversary of the opening of the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts seems a suitable occasion for Bard College to bring out the big guns, and that’s what will be happening this weekend.
You can hear Mahler’s Second in all its glory beginning at 8 p.m. this Friday and Saturday, April 26 and 27. The program will be performed by the largest group of musicians ever assembled on the Sosnoff stage: members of the American Symphony Orchestra, the Bard College Conservatory Orchestra, the Longy Conservatory Orchestra, the Bard Chamber Singers, the Bard Festival Chorale, Capella Festiva and a chorus of more than 110 singers. That adds up to over 150 voices all together. Soprano Heather Buck and mezzo-soprano Jamie Van Eyck will be the featured soloists in the choral movement; Leon Botstein will conduct, assisted by chorus master James Bagwell.
The preconcert talk at 7 p.m. will be given by Christopher Gibbs, James H. Ottaway, Jr. professor of Music on the Bard faculty. “Mahler’s overwhelming Second Symphony projects a powerful narrative of life triumphing over death that resonates with philosophical issues the composer explored throughout his career,” says Gibbs. “Mahler certainly knew how to gauge effects; he was well aware of what was dramatically compelling. He knew how to build to a shattering conclusion.”
Find out for yourself why it took Mahler seven years to write this symphony, and why he (along with his audiences then and now) considered it one of his most satisfying and successful works. Tickets go for $25, $30, $35 and $40. To order, or for more information, call the box office at (845) 758-7900 or visit https://fishercenter.bard.edu/calendar/event.php?eid=117503.
Mahler Symphony No. 2, American Symphony Orchestra/Bard College Conservatory Orchestra/Longy Conservatory Orchestra/Bard Chamber Singers/Bard Festival Chorale/Capella Festiva, Friday/Saturday, April 26/27, 8 p.m., $25/$30/$35/$40, Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson; (845) 758-7900, https://fishercenter.bard.edu/calendar/event.php?eid=117503.