MahlerFest will ‘Rise Again’ with 36th season

Film, chamber music, songs, and the massive Second Symphony May 17–21

By Peter Alexander May 16 at 11:15 p.m.

They just keep coming back.

They don’t build nests, but like the swallows to Capistrano, every May a group of musicians return to Boulder. They come here to play in the annual Colorado MahlerFest, for the 36th time this year.

Kenneth Woods with the Colorado MahlerFest Orchestra. Photo by Keith Bobo

This year’s festival, titled “Rise Again,” runs from Wednesday through Sunday, and includes events at Mountain View Methodist Church, the Boedecker Theater at the Dairy Arts Center and Macky Auditorium (May 17–21; full programs and details below).

As it has from the very first MahlerFest, this year’s event culminates in the performance of a major orchestral work: the Symphony No. 2 in C minor that features orchestra, chorus and vocal soloists (3:30 p.m. May 21 in Macky). It is the chorus of the Second Symphony that provides the festival title when they sing “Rise Again! You shall rise again!” This theme is also featured in the other work on the Sunday concert program, “Phoenix Rising” by the living Scottish composer Thea Musgrave.

Original poster for Mahler’s 1905 Lieder Concert

Preceding the Sunday performance of “Mahler and Musgrave,” there will be a free symposium titled “Authors and Editors” focusing on the featured work and other aspects of Mahler’s life (9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, May 20, at Mountain View Methodist, with lunch break).

A recent trend that continues in the 36th MahlerFest is the expansion of the repertoire to composers associated with, or in some way influenced by, Mahler. This development has been driven by artistic director Kenneth Woods, who took over MahlerFest from Robert Olson, the founding director, in 2015. Woods has said that his aim in expanding the repertoire is for the audience to hear more than works by Mahler and to provide context for the Mahler works that are performed.

This year’s concerts leading up to Sunday will present a symphony by Hans Gál, an Austrian composer of the generation after Mahler, and a chamber version of the first act of Wagner’s Die Walküre, which influenced the opening of the Second Symphony (7:30 p.m. Wednesday); a program of solo works (3 p.m. Thursday); a screening of Ken Russell’s loosely biographical 1974 film Mahler (7 p.m. Thursday); a chamber concert of music by Ernst Bloch and Erich Wolfgang Korngold, described in the program as “Mahler’s Musical Heirs” (7:30 p.m. Friday); and a concert recreating a program of Mahler’s song cycles that the composer conducted in Vienna in 1905 (7:30 p.m. Saturday).

Full program listings and details for each concert are given below.

But back to the swallows. One of the most notable aspects of the MahlerFest has been how many musicians develop a deep loyalty to the festival and return year after year. There is even one orchestra member—assistant principal string bass player Jennifer Motycka—who has played in every single MahlerFest, and many others play year after year.

Festival Artist Lauren Spaulding

One of these is violist Lauren Spaulding, who this year is a “Festival Artist”—performers who are chosen to lead orchestral sections or appear as soloists. “There’s something so engaging about playing Mahler with a bunch of cohorts,” she says. “Mahler demands a lot of flexibility and brings a little bit of the European musical traditions that you don’t really see these days in the States with the kinds of demands that they put on auditions— in time and in tune and correct and exactly right with the metronome.”

That flexibility and playing with like-minded musicians are key for Spaulding. She remembers a performance in 2019 of Mahler’s song cycle “Songs of a Wayfarer” as a moment of illumination. “It was beautiful, and playing it with musicians who are so flexible was a humbling experience for me. (That) opened my eyes to the fact that music is living poetry.”

She also singles out artistic director and conductor Kenneth Woods for praise. “Ken is amazing,” she says. “He’s a big reason I keep coming back. He follows what’s on the page, but man does he like make it live!”

For his part, Woods points to the ”friendly social environment within the orchestra, which I think partly comes from people who want to be here. And also just the fact that Boulder’s a fantastic place to spend a week! Everyone’s excited to get here, see the mountains, hear the music, and to see their friends.”

Woods believes that the collegial atmosphere comes partly from the Festival Artists. “We’ve chosen those people very, very carefully that they’re not just really good musicians, but that they’re great colleagues,” he says. “They’re there to inspire but also to encourage and to engage.”

Kenneth Woods

Woods and Spaulding both credit the varied repertoire for attracting musicians. “From day one I wanted to stay true to the core aspects of the festival but to really broaden the repertoire and increase the ambition,” Woods says. “For those who want to push themselves and explore new repertoire, this is a great place to do it.”

It’s definitely the expanded repertoire that brought tenor Brennen Guillory back for his second MahlerFest. He sang the tenor solos in Mahler’s Lied von der Erde (Song of the earth) in 2018, and this year he will be featured as Siegmund in the chamber performance of Wagner’s Die Walküre Act I Wednesday.

“Siegmund is a great role!” he says. “It’s one of those things I really love to sing. It’s a very rewarding piece, it’s kind of got everything.”

Like Spaulding, Guillory says that the conductor is also part of the attraction. “I’ve been working with Ken on and off for probably 20 years,” he says. “He’s a really great conductor to work with—very collaborative, very generous, patient, and he knows the music in and out.”

Finally, Woods wants you to know that the repertoire, while diverse, is more than a potpourri. The programs have been put together with a theme that runs through the festival. “I tried to program the festival so that the introduction of the human voice in (Mahler’s Second Symphony on Sunday) grows out of what we’ve heard earlier in the week. Both (Wagner’s Walküre Wednesday) and the Liederabend (Saturday) are intended to give a sense of Mahler’s roots.”

Woods details the connections between Mahler’s conducting of Wagner and his musical forms, between the Second Symphony and Walküre specifically, and between the songs he wrote and the music in his symphonies. “It’s lovely to see how vocal music informed his writing for the orchestra, and also the close relationship between song and symphony.

“That sense of Mahler the conductor and how that affects his work as a composer is always interesting to me.”

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MahlerFest XXXVI: “Rise Again”
Main Events

“Opera and more: Wagner and Gál”
Colorado MahlerFest Chamber Orchestra, Kenneth Woods, conductor
With Stacey Rishoi, soprano, Brennen Guillory, tenor, and Gustav Andreassen, bass

  • Hans Gál: Symphony No. 4 (U.S. premiere)
  • Wagner: Die Walküre, Act I (Arr. for chamber orchestra by Francis Griffin)

7:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 17
Mountain View Methodist Church

“Solo Journeys”
MahlerFest Festival Artists: Zachary DePue, violin; Parry Karp, cello; Hannah Porter Occeña, flute; Daniel Silver, clarinet; and Lauren Spaulding, viola

  • Luciano Berio: Sequenza I for flute
  • Egon Wellesz: Rhapsody for solo viola, op. 87
  • Olivier Messiaen: Abîme des oisseaux (Abyss of the Birds) from Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the end of time)
  • Max Reger: Suite in D minor for solo cello
  • Erwin Schulhoff: Sonata for solo violin

3 p.m. Thursday, May 18
Mountain View Methodist Church

Ken Russell’s Mahler
Screening of Ken Russell’s 1974 film Mahler

7 p.m. Thursday, May 18
Boedecker Theater, Dairy Arts Center

“Generation Next—Mahler’s Musical Heirs”
Zachary DePue and Caroline Chin, violin; Lauren Spaulding and Aria Cheregosha, viola; Parry Karp and Kenneth Woods, cello; and Jennifer Hayghe, piano

  • Ernst Bloch: Suite for cello and piano (trans from the Suite for viola)
  • Erich Wolfgang Korngold: String Sextet in D major, op. 10

7:30 p.m. Friday, May 19
Mountain View Methodist Church

MahlerFest XXXVI Symposium—Authors and Editors

  • Renate Stark-Voit, editor of the critical edition of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2
  • Joseph Horowitz, author of The Marriage: The Mahlers in New York
  • Kenneth Woods, MahlerFest artistic director
  • April Fredrick, soprano, opera, concert and recording artist
  • Peter Davison:, author to Wrestling with Angels

9 a.m.–4 p.m. Saturday, May 20
Mountain View Methodist Church; FREE

Mahler’s Liederabend
Recreation of Mahler’s concert in Vienna, Jan. 29, 1905
Colorado MahlerFest Orchestra, Kenneth Woods, conductor
With April Fredrick, soprano; Stacey Rishoi, mezzo-soprano; Brennen Guillory, tenor; and Gustav Andreassen, bass

  • Mahler: Selections from Das Knaben Wunderhorn (The youth’s magic horn)
  • Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the death of children)
  • Rückert-lieder (Songs after Rückert)

7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 20
Macky Auditorium

Stan Ruttenberg Memorial Concert: “Mahler and Musgrave”
Colorado MahlerFest Orchestra, Kenneth Woods, conductor
With April Fredrick, soprano, and Stacey Rishoi, mezzo-soprano
Boulder Concert Chorale, Vicki Burrichter, director

Thea Musgrave: Phoenix Rising
Mahler: Symphony No. 2 in C minor (“Resurrection”)

3:30 p.m. Sunday, May 21
Macky Auditorium

TICKETS for individual performances or packages

You may see the full calendar of events for MahlerFest XXXVI HERE.

NOTE: Typos corrected 5/15. The correct spelling of the soprano soloist is Fredrick, not Frederick.