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Event DescriptionGustavo Dudamel leads the SF Symphony in a program that balances Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s dramatic Symphony No. 38, Prague and Gustav Mahler’s masterful Fifth Symphony. Opening with a lone trumpet call that devolves into a most unusual funeral dirge, Mahler’s monumental work winds its way through frenetic bursts of energy, bucolic scenes, a yearning and gorgeous slow movement, and, finally, the jubilant and triumphant finale—a fitting culmination for one of the composer’s most beloved works.
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At A Glance
“My orchestra is in Prague,” Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote to the musicians there who had invited him, “and my Prague people understand me.” He arrived on January 11, 1787, touched and delighted by the universal madness for his latest opera, Le nozze di Figaro. Everyone, he reported, was “writing about it, talking about it, humming it, whistling it, and dancing it.” At the Grand Musical Academy on January 19 he presented his newest symphony, now called the Prague. We think of Mozart’s last three symphonies as a special group, and it is in the Prague that the composer’s attainment of incandescent miracle in the genre is reached first.
In July 1901, Gustav Mahler turned to the writings of Friedrich Rückert, and with this new literary inspiration, Mahler’s music becomes noticeably leaner and harder. Meanwhile, at least partly due to the composer’s recent acquisition of the complete works of J.S. Bach, Mahler’s orchestral textures become more polyphonic (multiple voices at once). After attending the first rehearsal of his Fifth Symphony, Mahler wrote his wife, Alma: “Heavens, what is the public to . . . say to this primeval music, this foaming, roaring, raging sea of sound, to these dancing stars, to these breathtaking, iridescent, and flashing breakers?” Mahler’s comment was right on the money: For the symphony’s first listeners, this music ushered in an exceptionally new, modern sound for the twentieth century.
After notes by Michael Steinberg and James M. Keller