Composed in 1908-09, the work sets to music German translations of exotic Chinese poetry, verse that prompted Mahler to create an intense musical meditation on the passing of life. The work is a perfect synthesis of song and symphony, and when played with proper urgency it both sooths the soul and fires the imagination.
For its debut performance in Nashville, the Clarksville-based Gateway Chamber Orchestra will present an arrangement of Mahler’s masterpiece for chamber ensemble. The orchestral textures of this version will be more transparent than those found in Mahler’s original 100-plus musician score. But the emotions will be just as fervid.
“Our performance will capture all of the power and passion of Mahler’s music,” says Gregory Wolynec, Gateway’s music director.
Gateway will perform Das Lied von der Erde on two consecutive evenings. The first performance takes place at 3 p.m. Sunday, May 5 at Mabry Concert Hall on the campus of Austin Peay State University in Clarksville. The group makes its belated Nashville debut at 7:30 p.m. Monday, May 6 at Second Presbyterian Church of Green Hills.
Arranged in six movements and lasting just over an hour, Das Lied von der Erde is scored for two vocal soloists (tenor and contralto) and orchestra. Each movement functions as its own separate song and features a single vocal soloist.
The first movement, titled “The Drinking Song of Earth’s Sorrow,” is a tragic and impassioned song in A minor that sets to music three verses of Li T’ai-Po, the greatest of all Chinese poets. Mahler composed the second movement, “The Lonely One in Autumn,” as he reflected on his own loneliness and contemplated his mortality. (Mahler did not live to hear this work performed.)
The moods shift in the third and fourth movements – “Of Youth” and “Of Beauty” – which deal with life’s more agreeable aspects. The fifth movement, “The Drunkard in Spring,” gets downright jovial. Mahler ends with his greatest music, “The Farewell,” a work of translucent beauty and heart-rending emotion.
Gateway will perform with two outstanding soloists. Jason Slayden is a lyric tenor whose voice is well-suited to Mahler’s music. Mezzo-soprano Teresa Buchholz recently sang for famed baritone Thomas Hampson. “He told her she needed to be singing all over the world,” says Wolynec.
Founded in 2008, Gateway got its start after music faculty at Austin Peay decided to celebrate the 100th anniversary of musical modernism with a performance of Arnold Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No. 1, Op. 9. “It turned out to be a remarkable performance despite our limited rehearsal time,” says Wolynec. In fact, the musicians had so much fun they decided to establish Gateway as a permanent ensemble.
The orchestra now presents about four subscription concerts a year. Its makeup consists of a mix of Austin Peay faculty and area professional musicians – some noted members include Nashville Symphony violinists Jessica Blackwell and Carolyn Wann Bailey, principal English horn player, oboist and all-around musical guru Roger Wiesmeyer and cellist Michael Samis.
Wolynec says his group has a three-pronged approach to programming. Gateway performs known masterworks (Das Lied von der Erde being a prime example), lost treasures and the works of living composers. A good example of the second is the orchestra’s recent performance with Samis of Carl Reinecke’s unjustly neglected Cello Concerto. Gateway will record that concerto on Samis’ forthcoming CD on the Delos label.
Speaking of recordings, Gateway is arguably better known nationally than locally thanks to a pair of well-received CDs. Chamber Symphonies, on the Summit label, features the music of Enescu, Schreker and Schoenberg. Wind Serenades includes a performance of Mozart’s magnificent Gran Partita.
For its first Nashville appearance, Gateway is leaving nothing to chance. It’s coming to town with a mighty Mahler masterpiece. And it’s playing this music in a fantastic space. “Second Presbyterian has magnificent acoustics,” says Wolynec.
Photo credits: Gateway photos by Allison Campbell (top) and Bill Larson (bottom two).
IF YOU GO
Gateway Chamber Ensemble performs Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde. Performances are 3 p.m. Sunday, May 5 at Mabry Concert Hall located in the Mass Communications Building at Eighth and Marion Streets on the campus of Austin Peay State University in Clarksville; and 7:30 p.m. Monday, May 6 at Second Presbyterian Church of Green Hills, 3511 Belmont Blvd., Nashville. Tickets are $15 adults, $10 students ($40 family packages are also available). For tickets click here or call Gateway at (931) 221-7642.