Bravo! Vail presents ‘Song of the Night’ by New York Philharmonic
If you go …
What: Alan Gilbert leads New York Philharmonic in Mahler’s Symphony No. 7, “Song of the Night.”
Where: Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, Vail.
When: Thursday, July 27, 6 p.m.
Cost: Tickets start at $44.
More information: Visit www.bravovail.org.
Dramatic, controversial, unconventional — three words that apply equally to Gustav Mahler’s life and music. Today, at 6 p.m., Bravo! Vail presents the New York Philharmonic performing Mahler’s monumental Symphony No. 7, “Song of the Night.” As the name suggests, the piece has somewhat of a dark and complex story of its own.
Mahler began work on the Seventh Symphony during a particularly happy time in his life; his family was growing and his career was thriving. He quickly wrote two of the movements of the symphony and, despite a brief case of writer’s block, finished off the other three within less than two years. However, the composer’s fortunes were about to change drastically.
In the two years between the symphony’s completion and its premiere, Mahler resigned from his job at the Court Opera in Vienna; his four-year-old daughter Maria died of scarlet fever; and, as his daughter was dying, Mahler learned that he had an incurable heart condition.
With all the changes he had experienced in his life since finishing the Seventh Symphony, Mahler felt that the music had to be changed, as well, and made significant revisions to it before its premiere. Between the revisions, and Mahler’s flagging stamina and confidence, the piece was controversial upon its first performance. It was a departure from Mahler’s previous symphonies, and the dramatic shifts in tone throughout the piece were confusing for audiences at the time.
Despite an initial tepid response, the Seventh Symphony has grown in popularity and enchanted audiences worldwide with some of the most beautiful music Mahler ever wrote, especially in the two “night music” movements that gave the work its nickname. Many see the piece as a depiction of the transition from dusk till dawn, with darker, more uncertain music earlier in the work eventually leading to brighter, gentler themes and a sunburst-like conclusion.
The Seventh Symphony also highlights Mahler’s penchant for unusual instruments. For many audience members, this performance marks a rare opportunity to see and hear a tenor tuba — a smaller, higher-pitched tuba — which only appears in the first movement. The gentle strumming of the mandolin and guitar are a hallmark of the gentle fourth movement; while both popular instruments, neither are typically heard alongside a full symphony orchestra. And the New York Philharmonic’s percussion section will be kept busy with cowbells, a glockenspiel, unpitched tubular bells, a tambourine, a tam-tam and more.
There is no orchestra better suited to bring Mahler’s works to Vail; the composer himself served as the New York Philharmonic’s music director beginning in 1909. He even led the orchestra’s first tour outside New York City — perhaps indirectly paving the way for Thursday’s performance of “Song of the Night” under the open sky in Vail.
The New York Philharmonic performs Mahler’s Symphony No. 7, “Song of the Night,” under the direction of Alan Gilbert at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater today at 6 p.m. Visit bravovail.org for tickets and more information.
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