Heavenly melodies are at the heart of a romantic musical showcase when the North Carolina Symphony, led by Music Director Grant Llewellyn and featuring concertmaster Brian Reagin and soprano Christina Pier, presents "Mahler's Fourth Symphony."
The concert, which also includes the stirring Violin Concerto by Mahler protégé Alban Berg and a contemporary masterpiece by composer Magnus Lindberg, takes place at Meymandi Concert Hall in downtown Raleigh's Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts on Friday and Saturday, Dec. 2-3 at 8:00 p.m.
"This is a wonderful program artistically," says Llewellyn. "Both the Lindberg piece and Berg's Violin Concerto have as their central pillars of reference and inspiration an extraordinary Bach chorale. As the Mahler symphony uses soprano, we tie it all together, Bach to Berg to Mahler, through the idea of the chorale."
The concert opens with a fitting pairing: preeminent Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg's 2002 composition Chorale and Berg's passionate and profound Violin Concerto. Both works incorporate "Es ist genug!" ("It is enough! Lord, if it is Thy pleasure, relieve me of my yoke"), a chorale Johann Sebastian Bach used in his Cantata No. 60.
Lindberg's composition is a modern and reverential ode to the ancient hymn tune, while Berg quotes the chorale to great effect in the finale of one of the most poignant and moving compositions in the entire orchestral literature.
Its famous dedication, "To the memory of an angel," honors Manon Gropius, a daughter of Alma Mahler who died at 19 years old while Berg was working on the concerto for violin virtuoso Louis Krasner. The Symphony's acclaimed concertmaster Brian Reagin, in his 23rd season at the head of the orchestra, will perform the heartfelt work.
Headlining the concert is one of Gustav Mahler's most evocative and lyrical masterworks, a piece that, to his friend and champion Bruno Walter, presents "the sublime and serene dream of a heavenly life."
The Fourth Symphony, the most modest in length and orchestral requirements of Mahler's ten symphonies, opens with a crucial progression of sleigh bells and sunny Viennese melodies in the first movement, an eerie second movement and peaceful third. These moods come together in an exhilarating finale considered a breakthrough for Mahler.
"In the first three movements there reigns the serenity of a higher realm, a realm strange to us, oddly frightening, even terrifying," the composer reportedly said. "In the finale, the child, which in its previous existence belonged to this higher realm, tells us what it all means."
The North Carolina Symphony's performance will feature American soprano Christina Pier. Hailed by Opera News for her "big, gleaming soprano and impressive coloratura," she has recently performed at Sarasota Opera as Donna Anna in Mozart's Don Giovanni, as well as concert hall appearances with the Alabama, Indianapolis and Hartford Symphonies. She was the 2003 Grand Finals Winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and is currently a member of the voice faculty at Catawba College.
She takes the Meymandi Concert Hall stage for a finale crucial to the career and artistic aspirations of a composer who was constantly searching for a meaning to life through his music.
"What touches us most in Mahler's Symphony is the feeling which emanates from the work. The longing for simplicity," wrote distinguished critic Max Kalbeck following the Viennese premiere of the Fourth Symphony in January 1902. "Mahler's G-Major Symphony is a work for children and those who would become like children."
Regular tickets to the Duke Medicine Classical Series Raleigh performances of "Mahler's Fourth Symphony" on Friday and Saturday, Dec. 2-3 range from $33 to $48, with $30 tickets for seniors and $10 tickets for students.
Meymandi Concert Hall is located in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., in Raleigh.
The concert will also be performed at Aycock Auditorium on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro on Thursday, Dec. 1 at 8:00 p.m. Tickets to the Greensboro concert are available by calling 336.334.4TIX or visiting www.uncg.edu/euc/boxoffice/tickets.
Beyond the Stage
Pre-concert talks and "Meet the Artists" events are held before Symphony concerts across the state. These engaging conversations offer a unique perspective on the evening's featured composers, as well as the chance to ask questions and hear the inside story on what to listen for.