“In reality, you are about to hear the Ninth Symphony of Gustav Mahler,” proclaimed conductor James Conlon as he was about to lead the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a performance of “Das Lied von der Erde” (“Song of the Earth”) last weekend at Ravinia, the penultimate concert of a multi-year Mahler cycle that began when Conlon became the North Shore festival’s music director back in 2005. Mahler indeed composed “Das Lied” after his mammoth Eighth Symphony and subtitled it a symphony, but given that Beethoven, Schubert and Bruckner had all died after writing a Ninth Symphony, he superstitiously refused to place that ominous number on the work and felt that he had somehow cheated fate as a result. Ironically, Mahler would go on to write a Ninth, and even an un-orchestrated Tenth Symphony, which he would not live to complete. While “Das Lied” is really more of an orchestral song cycle than a symphony, the symphony that Mahler completed after “Das Lied” and actually did affix the fateful number “Nine” to will complete the cycle. Like “Das Lied,” the Ninth reflects a resignation of the acceptance of death despite enjoying every last moment of life, an immensely personal statement as the composer had recently lost a daughter and had himself been recently diagnosed with a fatal heart condition. Like the finale of “Das Lied,” the finale of the massive, conflicted and personal journey of the Ninth Symphony fades into existential nothingness and remains a pivotal symphonic statement, culminating as it does the Romantic era of the nineteenth century as well as serving as a precursor of the twentieth-century music that would follow. No word yet as to whether or not any of the Mahler Tenth, a work Mahler completed but had not finished orchestrating when he died in 1911, will top off the series at some point, nor if the recession has wreaked havoc on Ravinia’s plans to replicate all of the Mahler Symphonies during the 2011 Mahler anniversary. Meanwhile, Carlos Kalmar and the Grant Park Orchestra will have their turn at the Mahler Ninth in August in rare indoor performances at the Harris Theater. (Dennis Polkow)
July 19, Ravinia Festival, Lake-Cook & Green Bay Roads, Highland Park, (847)266-5000, 5pm. $10-$25.
Dennis Polkow is an award-winning veteran journalist, critic, author, broadcaster and educator. He made his stage debut at age five, was a child art prodigy and began playing keyboards in clubs at the age of fourteen. He holds degrees in music theory, composition, religious studies and philosophy from DePaul University in Chicago. Polkow spent his early years performing and recording in rock and jazz bands while concertizing as a classical pianist, organist and harpsichordist and composing, arranging and producing for other artists. As a scholar, Polkow has published and lectured extensively and taught at several colleges and universities in various departments. As an actor, narrator and consultant, Polkow has been involved with numerous films, plays, broadcasts and documentaries. As a journalist, Polkow helped co-create the experiential Chicago Musicale and Spotlight, the award-winning tabloid arts and entertainment section of the Press Publications chain of newspapers, which he later edited. He also created and ran the nationally recognized journalism program at Oakton College and was faculty advisor to its award-winning student newspaper; many former students went on to major media careers, including Channel Awesome’s the Nostalgia Critic. Polkow’s research, interviews, features, reviews and commentaries have appeared across national and international media and he has corresponded from the Middle East, Asia and Africa for the Chicago Tribune. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org