By Paul Hyde: April 28, 2016
Austrian composer Gustav Mahler famously said that a symphony should contain a world of meaning.
Conductor Edvard Tchivzhel believes that Mahler’s Third Symphony, with its profound worldly and spiritual reflections, lives up to that ambition — or perhaps exceeds it.
The towering work, the longest symphony in the standard repertoire, will conclude the Greenville Symphony’s 2015-16 season of concerts with Tchivzhel on the podium.
Almost 200 instrumentalists and singers will be on the stage of the Peace Center Concert Hall for two performances of the program “Hymn to Nature,” May 7-8.
Mahler’s Third Symphony is the only piece on the program.
“It’s an amazing, breathtaking symphony, with music ranging from the titanic to the subtle and elegant,” Tchivhzel said. “It’s Mahler at his best.”
The two performances will feature a total of 189 performers, including 99 orchestral musicians, alto soloist Stacy Rishoi, a women’s chorus of 66 and a children’s chorus of 23.
The six-movement symphony is rarely performed, owing in part to its length and the large forces required.
For the Greenville Symphony, the program represents a musical milestone, with the orchestra playing the Third Symphony for the first time in its 69-year history.
Tchivzhel himself has conducted the symphony a few times in his career, notably with the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra (now the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic).
A performance of the Third Symphony, without intermission, typically lasts 90 to 105 minutes. Tchivzhel has chosen to take an intermission after the work’s third movement.
Joining the Greenville Symphony will be the women of the Greenville Chorale (Bingham Vick Jr., artistic director and conductor) and the children’s chorus Chicora Voices (Alan Reed, artistic director and conductor; Laura Jean Reed, conductor).
Hymn to creation
Mezzo-soprano Stacey Rishoi, who last appeared with the Greenville Symphony as the alto soloist in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, returns as the soloist in Mahler’s Third Symphony.
The alto’s “Midnight Song, ” with a text by Friedrich Nietzche, bears some resemblance to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” at least in its theme — the spiritual transcendence of joy, Rishoi said.
Mahler’s musical language, however, is strikingly different, with lyrical, long-lined melodies supported by lush orchestration.
“It’s ethereal, other-worldly,” Rishoi said, speaking by phone from her home near Cincinnati. “The message is that joy and love triumph over pain.”
Mahler often wrote for the deeper alto voice to convey profound ideas.
“I think Mahler really liked the alto and mezzo-soprano voice, using her a lot as the messenger for spiritual concepts,” Rishoi said.
Rishoi maintains a busy career as a soloist with orchestras and in opera. Recent engagements include the title role in “Carmen” with Cincinnati Opera and Dalila in “Samson and Dalila” with Opera Grand Rapids, among many other roles.
Mahler gave the symphony’s six movements titles that touch on nature and spiritual ideas: “Summer Marches In,” “What the Flowers of the Meadow Tell Me,” “What the Animals in the Forest Tell Me,” “What Man Tells Me,” “What the Angels Tell Me” and “What Love Tells Me.”
“He said the symphony ‘is one great hymn to the glory of creation,’” Tchivzhel said.
The women and children’s choirs sing in the bright fifth movement, “What the Angels Tell Me.” The text, on a theme of salvation, comes from the German collection of traditional poetry called “Des Knaben Wunderhorn.”
Writing to a friend about the complete symphony, Mahler said, “Imagine a work so large that it mirrors the entire world. My symphony will be something that the world has never heard before!”
At other times, Mahler referred to his creation, affectionately, as his “monster.”
For some perspective on the forces required to play the piece, consider that a blazing Tchaikovsky symphony might be scored for four French horns, two trumpets and three trombones. For the Mahler Third Symphony, the Greenville Symphony will feature nine French horns, five trumpets and four trombones.
Jens Larsen, a former Greenville Symphony co-principal trumpet player who is now based in Connecticut, is returning to Greenville to perform the Third Symphony’s extended trumpet solo (originally intended for posthorn). Traditionally, that solo is played by a musician positioned in the balcony, above most of the audience — for an ethereal effect.
For the entire orchestra, the Third Symphony offers considerable challenges, Tchivzhel said.
“Mahler is always challenging,” he said. “It’s music of extremes, demanding very robust but also delicate playing from the musicians. It takes concentration, physical endurance, attention and musical maturity from the musicians — and the conductor, too!”
Greenville News arts writer Paul Hyde will present a free pre-concert talk one hour before each concert.
Prior to the concerts, the Greenville Symphony is holding a fundraiser, “Martinis and Mahler,” on Thursday, May 5, 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the Peace Center. The event will feature food, drinks and a live rehearsal of Mahler’s Third Symphony. For information about the fundraiser, call 864-232-0344, ext. 12.
For the latest in local arts news and reviews, follow Paul Hyde on Facebook and Twitter: @PaulHyde7.
YOU CAN GO
What: Greenville Symphony Orchestra’s “Hymn to Nature,” featuring Mahler’s Symphony No. 3
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, May 7; 3 p.m. Sunday, May 8 (Greenville News arts writer Paul Hyde will present a free pre-concert talk one hour before each concert)
Where: Peace Center Concert Hall
Tickets: $17 to $66
Information: 864-367-3000 or www.peacecenter.org