Thirty-fifth festival returns to near-normal with five days of activities
By Peter Alexander May 16 at 10:20 p.m.
It has only been nine months since the COVID-postponed 34th Colorado MahlerFest, but the festival is returning in its usual May slot and with a full schedule this week.
Performances in the 35th festival include the usual Sunday afternoon Stan Ruttenberg Memorial Concert (May 22) in Macky Auditorium featuring a Mahler Symphony—this year the Third— as well as a symposium Saturday. Other events include music for piano (Tuesday), a film screening (Wednesday), chamber music (Thursday), a free concert of film music at the Boulder Bandshell (Friday) and an opera performance (Saturday; see full schedule below). There are also open rehearsals and social events during the week.
Full details and tickets are available on the MahlerFest Web page.
“We’re really excited to do a quote ‘normal’ festival,” MahlerFest’s artistic director Kenneth Woods says. “It will be the biggest festival we’ve done so far.”
The signature event of the festival is the annual performance of a Mahler symphony. That is how the festival was started, and it remains the culmination of the week’s activities. The Third Symphony “is the biggest of the big pieces, the most Mahler-ish of the Mahler symphonies,” Woods says. It will be presented in the first U.S. performance of a new critical edition from the publisher Breitkopf & Härtel.
The Third is indeed a sprawling work in six movements divided into two parts: An opening march, titled “Pan Awakes; Summer Marches In” that lasts 30 minutes or more; and a series of five movements in differing styles and for differing forces, titled respectively “What the flowers in the meadow tell me,” “What the animals in the forest tell me,” “What man tells me,” “What the angels tell me” and “What love tells me.”
In Woods’s words, the opening movement is “a creation myth. It’s incredibly epic.” That exuberant, bold march is followed by a series of more intimate reflections that grew out of Mahler’s reverence for nature. The flowers inspire a graceful minuet, the animals an energetic scherzo that includes a nostalgic offstage posthorn solo.
“What man tells me” is an ominous alto solo using a text from Nietzsche, “O Man! Take heed!” The angels are represented with a folk-like tune accompanied by a children’s chorus imitating bells, and in the final movement the full orchestra without singers brings love’s message in the form of a broad, lyrical slow movement.
“Modern-day fascination with this piece for me is trying to understand what Mahler means when he says, ‘What the flowers tell me’,” Woods says. “It’s quite remarkable that he’s taking these almost naive ideas and writing huge movement after huge movement of intricate, sophisticated music.
“I see the piece almost as a call to action. It ought to inspire us to listen as Mahler listened, (and) to listen to Mahler’s music as he listened to the flowers. It’s so timely—what was once gentle warnings are now urgent cries of alarm. When you think about Mahler’s evocation of the flora and fauna, and what no longer exists, there is an element of a prophetic warning in the Third Symphony, but a whole lot of hope.”
Since taking over as director of the festival in 2015, Woods has expanded the scope of the festival to include music by composers related to Mahler in one way or another. In addition to the Third Symphony of Mahler, the Sunday concert will feature the world premiere of the 10th symphony of British composer Christopher Gunning.
A prominent composer of film scores who has turned more to the writing of symphonies, Gunning is related to Mahler through the world of film music. Woods points out that the earliest film composers—Franz Waxman, Max Steiner and Erich Wolfgang Korngold—were all Austrian- or German-born musicians who brought the style of Mahler and his contemporaries to Hollywood.
And now, he says, Gunning is returning the film-music style to the symphony, “a kind of musical arc of the last 100 years coming full circle. Gunning is taking where film music got to and going back into that large-scale exploration of sonata form (of the symphony) using the language that it evolved through to him.”
The presence of Mahler’s style in film music will be explored in more depth in the free Friday evening concert at the Boulder Bandshell, in a program titled “Mahler and the Movies.”
Another work with a distant relationship to Mahler is the opera Bluebeard’s Castle by Bartók, which will be presented in a chamber version Friday. Half a generation younger than Mahler, Bartók wrote the opera in 1911, the year of Mahler’s death, and saw its first performance in 1918.
“It is the most amazing of operas,” Woods says. “I would not try to convince anyone that Bartók and Mahler are in any way the same, but they’re breathing the same air, and feeding from the same streams. What fascinates me is stylistically how far they diverge, but the role of vernacular music in both composers is provocative for its time, and that’s something that does link them in an interesting way.”
The chamber version of Bluebeard’s Castle will be presented in a concert performance, featuring soprano April Fredrick as Judith and bass Gustav Andreassen as Bluebeard. Fredrick will speak about the opera at Saturday’s symposium in a talk titled “Self-will and missed connections in Bluebeard’s Castle.”
The rest of the symposium program, and the programs of the other concerts are listed in full below. There is a great deal of music not by Mahler—pieces by Bruckner, Casella, George Crumb, Beethoven, John Williams and others—but for Woods the focus remains firmly on Mahler’s symphonies, regardless of the program content.
“This will be the first year that you can hear some of every single Mahler symphony in the festival, if you come to every event,” he says. “In fact, I can guarantee listeners that they’ll hear some of every Mahler symphony on Friday night (“Mahler and the Movies”)—just not in the way they are used to hearing it.”
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Colorado MahlerFest XXXV
“What Mahler Tells Me”
Mahler at the Piano
David Korevaar and Jeremy Reger, piano
- Bruckner: Symphony No. 3, movements II and IV (arranged by Mahler)
- Mahler: Symphony No. 3, “Menuetto aus der III. Symphonie” (arranged by Ignaz Friedman)
- Mahler: Symphony No. 4, movement IV ”Das himmlische Leben” (arranged for piano by Mahler; played by Mahler via piano roll)
- Mahler: Symphony No. 5, movement I “Trauermarsch” (arranged by Stadl)
- Mahler: Symphony No. 6, movements II and III (arranged by Alexander Zemlinsky)
- Mahler: Symphony No. 7, movement V (arranged by Alfredo Casella)
7:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 17
Grusin Hall, CU Imig Music Building
Movie: Under Suspicion
Film Screening of Under Suspicion, starring Liam Neeson and Laura San Giacomo
Film score by MahlerFest guest composer Christopher Gunning
3 p.m. Wednesday, May 18
Boedecker Theater, Dairy Arts Center
Quartets and More
Zachary De Pue, Karen Bentley Pollick and Suzanne Casey, violin; Lauren Spaulding, viola; Kenneth Woods and Parry Karp, cello; and Jennifer Hayghe, piano
- Christopher Gunning: Piano Trio
- Alfredo Casella: Cello Sonata No. 1
- George Crumb: Sonata for solo cello
- Beethoven: String Quartet No. 16 in F major, op. 13
III. Lento assai, cantabile e tranquilla
- Bartók: String Quartet No. 1
4 p.m. Thursday, May 19
Mountain View United Methodist Church
Mahler and the Movies
Colorado MahlerFest Chamber Orchestra, Kenneth Woods, conductorMax Steiner: Music from King Kong (arr. Steven Stanke)
- Christopher Gunning: The Belgian Detective: Theme from Angela Christie’s Poirot (arr. Kenneth Woods)
- Franz Waxman: Suite from Sunset Boulevard (arr. Matthew Lynch)
- Mahler: Adagietto from Symphony No. 5 (arr. Kenneth Woods)
- Korngold: Suite from Captain Blood (arr. Luciano Williamson)
- John Williams: Theme from Schindler’s List
- Gunning: Music from Under Suspicion (arr. Kenneth Woods)
- George Morton: Mahler, A Final Frontier, Fantasy on themes of Mahler and Courage
6 p.m. Friday, May 20
Boulder Bandshell, 1212 Canyon Blvd.; Free
NOTE: An alternate venue in case of inclement weather will be the Mountain View United Methodist Church.
MahlerFest XXXV Symposium
- Leah Batstone: “Mahler’s Nietzsche: Philosophical Resonances in the Early Symphonies”
- April Fredrick: “’Now all is darkness’: Self-Will and missed connections in Bluebeard’s Castle”
- Peter Franklin: “Mirroring the world? What a sentimental trombone, a distant posthorn and The Bird of the Night tell us about a symphony”
- Kenneth Woods: “Interpreting Mahler’s Third Symphony”
- Nick Pfefferkorn: “Mahler Third Symphony: Insights on the first critical edition from the editor’s desk”
9 a.m.–4 p.m. Saturday, May 21
Mountain View United Methodist Church; Free
Colorado MahlerFest Chamber Orchestra, Kenneth Woods, conductor
April Fredrick, soprano, and Gustav Andreassen, bass
- Bartók: Bluebeard’s Castle
Arranged for chamber orchestra by Christopher van Tuinen and Michael Karcher-Young
7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 21
Mountain View Methodist Church
Mahler’s Third Symphony
Colorado MahlerFest Orchestra, Kenneth Woods, conductor
With Stacey Rishoi, mezzo-soprano, Women of the Boulder Concert Chorale and Boulder Children’s Chorale Festival Choir
- Christopher Gunning: Symphony No. 10 (World premiere)
- Mahler: Symphony no. 3
3:30 p.m. Sunday, May 22
More information and tickets for all MahlerFest performances are available HERE.
CORRECTIONS (May 17 at 12 noon): April Fredrick’s family name was corrected; it is not Frederick. Violist Mario Rivera has replaced Lauren Spaulding on the “Quartets and More” program May 19. Due to technical constraints in the venue, there will be no lighting effects in the performance of Bluebeard’s Castle as was originally stated.