From Bravo! Vail Executive Director: Hearing Mahler in the mountains is a ‘once in a lifetime experience’ |

From Bravo! Vail Executive Director: Hearing Mahler in the mountains is a ‘once in a lifetime experience’

Caitlin Murray, Executive Director of Bravo! Vail Music Festival
Caitlin Murray
Courtesy photo

The one and only New York Philharmonic returns to the Bravo! Vail Music Festival on Wednesday, and there are so many remarkable moments to anticipate during the Philharmonic’s six inspiring performances. Of all of these moments, I am most looking forward to hearing the Philharmonic perform Gustav Mahler’s Symphony Nos. 1 and 6 led by Music Director Jaap van Zweden and participating in the unique educational activities we have planned in the community.

Mahler’s work is among the most treasured in the symphonic repertoire, usually engaging an impressive number of musicians on stage and creating a truly unique musical experience for the audience. The New York Philharmonic performing Mahler is particularly special because of the orchestra’s special relationship with the composer.  

Gustav Mahler served as music director of the Philharmonic from 1909-11, and he conducted the U.S. premiere of his Symphony No. 1 with them in 1909. The NY Philharmonic’s performances and interpretations of Mahler have been regarded as some of the best in the world. 

Here in Vail, Mahler’s music takes on additional depth and meaning. Mahler famously drew inspiration from nature, and you can hear it in his works. He spent many summers composing in the Austrian Alps where he interspersed his compositional work with long walks in the mountains, woods and along lakes.

This sense of wonder and inspiration found in nature is very familiar to us in the Vail Valley. It is one of the reasons we live and visit this special place. In fact, Jaap van Zweden has said the open-air Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater is the perfect venue to conduct Mahler, surrounded by the beautiful sounds of nature.

Bravo! Vail incites you to learn more about Mahler this summer, so in addition to the performances of these two epic symphonies, we’ve created two “Naturally Mahler” events that will explore his music in very different ways.

One will examine Mahler’s musical scores and interpretations with Gabryel Smith, NY Philharmonic archivist and musicians of the NY Philharmonic at the Vail Public Library. The other will be a beautiful, easy 40-minute nature walk at the Vail Nature Center, which will incorporate discussion and musical performances by the brass ensemble The Westerlies.

Please join us for these memorable New York Philharmonic performances of Mahler with related educational activities and learn more about the inspiration of this nature-lover and true musical genius. I look forward to seeing you at the following events:

Orchestra Series Concert: Beethoven & Mahler Conducted by Van Zweden

July 20 at 6 p.m. — Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater

The New York Philharmonic led by Jaap van Zweden will kick off its Bravo! Vail residency with Gustav Mahler’s expansive Symphony No. 1 — a work the ensemble premiered in 1909 with the composer on the podium. From its ethereal opening notes to its thunderous, bolt-from-the-blue finale, Mahler’s titanic symphony is an earth-shaking musical journey infused with the sounds of nature. Also on the program is Beethoven’s Emperor Piano Concerto, performed by acclaimed pianist Seong-Jin Cho. 

Naturally Mahler: Discussion with Members of the New York Philharmonic

July 21 at 1 p.m. — Vail Public Library

This free discussion will examine Gustav Mahler’s final interpretation of his First Symphony through the composer’s marked score, which he left in New York and is housed at the Philharmonic archives. Joined by members of the orchestra, Director of Archives and Exhibits Gabryel Smith will address the Philharmonic’s championship of the work through time — nearly 200 performances and counting — as they dive into the interpretations from Bruno Walter to Leonard Bernstein to Jaap van Zweden.

Naturally Mahler: Adventure Walk

July 23 at 9:30 a.m., 11 a.m., and 1 p.m. — Vail Nature Trail

Part discussion, part concert, these 40-minute nature walks will explore Mahler’s love of the mountains and detail the many ways nature made its way into his music. Gabryel Smith, Director of Archives and Exhibitions for the New York Philharmonic, will guide the walks with live musical illustrations by The Westerlies along the way. These adventure walks are presented in partnership with the Walking Mountains Science Center.

Orchestra Series Concert: Mahler’s Sixth Symphony

July 24, 2022, at 6 p.m. — Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater

Mahler’s Sixth Symphony is a work of mythical proportions. Filled with drama, it is powerful, emotional, and moving, and includes the infamous “hammer strikes,” which Mahler intended to signal “mighty blows of fate” experienced by the hero. I invite you to embrace the opportunity for introspection it offers and come on this journey with the uncompromising artistry of Jaap van Zweden and the inheritors of Mahler’s musical legacy, the New York Philharmonic. 

To purchase or reserve tickets, or to learn more about any of these Mahler performances and events, please visit

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