The Corvallis-OSU Symphony is preparing a “concert of hundreds” for Tuesday night at the LaSells Stewart Center.
Maestro Marlan Carlson will direct the orchestra in Mahler’s Symphony No. 3, a massive, six-movement work that runs for nearly 100 minutes — without an intermission. It is the fifth Mahler symphony the orchestra has performed in recent years, with Carlson planning to direct the Ninth next season (see information back Page XX).
The symphony is the longest in the standard classical repertoire and involves a stage-filling orchestra of nearly 120 players, the Heart of the Valley Children’s Choir, the Oregon State University Bella Voce women’s choir and soprano soloist Amy Hansen.
“Mahler shows us the beauty of our world and our life,” Carlson said. “It’s shatteringly beautiful. He creates a mood that makes you almost want to weep with joy. How can you be immersed in such beauty? It sends shivers up your back and puts tears in your eyes.”
Mahler’s original conception for the symphony, written in 1895 and 1896, called for “titles” that were aimed at explaining the movements. The composer eventually stopped using them, but Carlson said that the “rough scaffolding” that they add to the piece helps listeners understand the language of the work.
Here is a look at the six movements:
1. Pan awakens and summer marches in
Carlson notes Mahler’s use of military marches that symbolize all of the “ardor and enthusiasm of people going to war. Spring bursts upon us. Trumpets are blaring. … Six months later when all of the bodies come home it turns into a funeral march.”
The movement, clocking in at more than 30 minutes, is the longest in the piece.
2. What the flowers of the meadow tell me
The movement is “in the tempo of the minuet” and Carlson said that it characterizes the Austro-Hungarian empire, a sprawling, brawling stew pot of cultures and ethnicities that ultimately was dismembered after World War I. “The whole edifice is starting to crumble. There is a thin layer of elegance and sophistication. … Underneath is the rot.”
3. What the animals in the forest tell me
The movement features cuckoos and bird calls and music of the “common folks.” Carlson calls it “boisterous, rough-hewn and unruly. It’s hard to get orchestra players to play in a rough-hewn manner. It’s like you have big, muddy boots on and you are drunk and trying to dance.”
4. What the night tells me
“This is music of the night,” Carlson said. “And it’s religious. But it’s not the language of religion and churches. It’s more a religion of transcendence and the awe that is our spiritual life. We are supposed to take heed and pay attention. Listen up! What is being spoken to us in the depths of midnight? This is the culminating point of the symphony.”
5. What the morning bells tell me
“It’s all about the language of children,” Carlson said. “We’re going to make it happy and light … like fresh-faced children or angels. Out of the mouths of babes comes truth.”
6. What love tells me
There is a sense, Carlson said of the final movement, “of everything being tied together.”
Carlson compared it to a “thanksgiving, but a more prayerful, higher expression of thanksgiving I cannot think of. It is radiant and powerfully serene. It’s a somber, serious, respectful summation of all we face in this life as spiritual beings and imperfect beings.
“And in the end … life is good … life is good. It’s about as optimistic a statement as Mahler has made.”
Carlson described Mahler’s symphonies as “being on everyone’s bucket list. Players and conductors. My student players are ecstatic that we are doing this Mahler.”
And it is his growing cadre of student players, mixed in with the faculty, community members and professionals in the orchestra, that allows Carlson to mount such complex works. Ten years ago he had about 30 OSU students in the fold. Now, it’s in the 70-80 range.
The increase is the result of a program in which Carlson gives scholarships to nonmusic majors to boost the number of students in the orchestra.
“Our ability to do these large symphonies is due to our giving scholarships to science and engineering majors,” he said. “It keeps them engaged in the program. The students have made these Mahler symphonies possible. Definitely.”