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Blasi, McCormick lead ‘Resurrection’

Top soloists join symphony for weekend performances

The Spokane Symphony and music director Eckart Preu will present Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection” by Gustav Mahler. Joining in the performance will be the Spokane Symphony Chorale, directed by Julián Gómez Giraldo, and soloists Angela Maria Blasi, soprano and Mary Ann McCormick, mezzo-soprano.

Blasi, one of today’s leading lyric sopranos, said she considers “Resurrection” as “one of the most amazing musical illustrations in the repertoire.” In an email interview, she added that the “excitement of Mahler’s music is partly due to his orchestration and how he challenges each instrument of the orchestra to break the boundaries of its normal range.”

Mezzo-soprano McCormick said she is “thrilled to be returning to the Spokane Symphony.” In 2010 she performed as alto soloist in W.A. Mozart’s “Requiem.” In an email exchange, she said that Mahler’s symphony is “extremely beautiful and moving, but also a profound work, quite rich tonally and it evokes feelings of hope.” She added, “it is my desire that these concerts will touch many hearts that may feel lost and alone.”

Gustav Mahler was born in 1860, went from Bohemia, through provincial capitals, to Vienna, New York, and returned to Vienna, where he died in 1911. At age 37 he was appointed music director of the Vienna Opera, one the most prestigious musical posts in Europe at that time.

He once said of himself: “I am thrice homeless – as a native of Bohemia in Austria, as an Austrian among the Germans, and as a Jew throughout the world.”

Leonard Bernstein once said, “Mahler was the end point of the great Classical/Romantic symphonic arch that began with Haydn and Mozart, and continued through Beethoven, Wagner, Liszt, Brahms and Bruckner.” In many ways Mahler was also a forerunner of 20th century musical ideas. For example, he championed the work of Arnold Schoenberg and Schoenberg’s radically new ideas about harmony.

The symphony took Mahler six years to compose. The first movement was completed in 1888. Mahler was not sure whether he wanted to make “Funeral Rite” a first movement for a symphony or leave it as an independent tone poem.

Mahler wrote of this movement: “We stand by the coffin of a well-loved person. His life, struggles, passions and aspirations once more, for the last time, pass before our mind’s eye. And now in this moment of gravity and emotion which convulses our deepest being … our heart is gripped by a deadly serious voice … What now? What is this life – and this death? Do we have an existence beyond it? Is all this only a confused dream, or do life and this death have a meaning.” Mahler believed that we must answer this question if we are to live on.

The symphony will be performed without an intermission; there will be a traditional five-minute pause between the first and second movements. English supertitles will be used for the vocal sections.

Movements two through four help to prepare the listener for the overwhelming orchestral, vocal majesty and resolution of the fifth and longest movement – when the answer to the eternal struggle of life and death is answered.

The final vocal passage of this monumental work is considered by many to be Mahler’s greatest moment. Love-Death-Resurrection-Eternal Life summarized with these words:

“Arise, you will arise,

My heart, within a moment!

What you have conquered,

To God, to God it will bear you up.”

Donivan Johnson, who lives in Metaline Falls, is a composer, lecturer and K-12 music instructor for the Selkirk School District.