Gustav Mahler’s love of the natural world is clear in the names of the movements of his third symphony — a piece that will be highlighted during this year’s MahlerFest, a weeklong celebration of the composer that will run at locales across Boulder through Sunday.
Composed between 1893 and 1896, Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 is (as well as the longest symphony in the accepted repertoire), a piece that clocks in at around 110 minutes. To help encapsulate the sentiments behind the music, Mahler offered subtitles for each movement of the piece as it took shape.
The symphony, titled “A Midsummer Morning’s Dream,” proceeds through sections creatively labeled “Summer Marches In,” “What the Flowers of the Field Tell Me,” “What the Animals of the Forest Tell Me,” “What Humanity Tells Me,” “What the Angels Tell Me” and “What Love Tells Me.”
The symphony’s thematic progression from the natural world to the heights of the human spirit serves as a fitting theme for Colorado’s 35th annual award-winning festival.
The festival will culminate on 3:30 p.m. Sunday with a special performance of the third symphony at University of Colorado Boulder’s Macky Auditorium, 1595 Pleasant St., one that features the U.S. premiere of the Breitkopf and Härtel critical edition of the piece.
According to MahlerFest Artistic Director Kenneth Woods, the spirit behind one of the most ambitious and unique symphonies in the history of orchestral music provided a thematic through-line for one of Boulder’s best-loved cultural traditions. Titled “What Mahler Tells Me,” this year’s festival takes the creative musings of the composer as a cue.
In a descriptive piece about the festival, Woods writes:
“An avid hiker, Mahler felt a profound connection to nature, a topic he explores in his epic third symphony. MahlerFest XXXV investigates ‘what Mahler tells me’ by looking to the boundaries between the interior and exterior in a festival week that features the third symphony.”
Additional performances this week will include the world premiere of Symphony No. 10 by British film composer Christopher Gunning, a chamber orchestra arrangement of of Béla Bartók’s “Bluebeard’s Castle,” “Mahler and the Movies,” a thought-provoking symposium, two chamber music concerts, a film and more.
Every day through Sunday there will also be open rehearsals that the public can (quietly) attend at Mountain View United Methodist Church, 355 Ponca Place, Boulder, and at Macky Auditorium. The full schedule can be found at mahlerfest.org.
Exploring the themes behind Mahler’s third symphony aligns with the mission of the festival, which Founding Artistic Director Robert Olson launched in 1987 as a way to celebrate the works of a composer who was too often overlooked.
While Mahler’s popular first and fourth symphonies enjoyed frequent rotations in the standard classical repertoire, the rest of his oeuvre was frequently omitted on the stages of classical music halls.
Thirty-five years later, Olson’s initial push has blossomed into a festival that annually draws musicians, artists and fans from across the globe to Boulder, and this year is no exception.
The 35th annual festival features accomplished musicians and artists, including concertmaster and violinist Zachary de Pue, who formerly held the title of concertmaster for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Pro Arte String Quartet member Parry Karp, and local pianists David Korevaar, Jeremy Reger and Jennifer Hayghe.
Soprano April Frederick will be featured in the performance of Bartók’s “Bluebeard’s Castle” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Mountain View United Methodist Church. Artists and musical scholars including Leah Batsone, Peter Franklin, Nick Pfefferkorn and others will take part in the symposium planned for 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday at Mountain View United Methodist Church.
Other events include a quartet-themed concert at 4 p.m. Thursday at the Mountain View United Methodist Church, and a tribute to Mahler’s music in the movies at 6 p.m. Friday at the church — which was moved from the Boulder Bandshell due to Friday’s impending weather.
These featured artists and thinkers will join the MahlerFest Orchestra, a group of dozens of dedicated musicians who travel to Boulder from spots across the world to celebrate the legacy and spirit of one of the modern world’s most innovative composers. It’s a meeting of the musical minds that’s all the more gratifying after the limitations on gatherings and travel the world has seen over the past few years.
It’s also a celebration that pays fitting tribute to the festival’s centerpiece, the third symphony that Mahler himself categorized as one of his most ambitious and inspired, a work of art borne of a love of the natural world shared by so many in Boulder and in Colorado.
“Just imagine a work of such magnitude that it actually mirrors the whole world — one is, so to speak, only an instrument, played on by the universe,” Mahler wrote to soprano singer Anna von Mildenburg. “My symphony will be something the like of which the world has never yet heard … In it the whole of nature finds a voice.”
Tickets and a full calendar of MahlerFest events can be found at mahlerfest.org.