On Thursday, October 11, 2018, in a program to be repeated Friday, October 12, Saturday, October 13, and Sunday, October 14, Columbian-Austrian conductor Andrés Orozco-Estrada returned to Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, Chicago, to lead the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Gustav Mahler’s monumental Symphony No. 3 in D minor, 1895-1896, revised 1899.
The Symphony’s performance was amplified by the angelic voices of the Women of the Chicago Symphony Chorus under the direction of Duain Wolfe, and the Anima Young Singers of Greater Chicago, (formerly the Glen Ellyn Children’s Chorus) under the direction of Charles Sundquist. The vocal soloist for the fourth and fifth movements was American mezzo soprano Kelley O’Connor, “whose sophisticated voice and innate dramatic artistry has elated audiences across the world.”
Opening with one of the most original, largely conceived and daring movements in the symphonic lexicon, Mahler’s ode to the vastness of nature is filled with ambitious ideas that coalesce into a stunningly lovely climax. The longest symphony ever written by this late-romantic composer, the 100 minute long enormity extolls the power and majesty of nature through the exploration of colorful possibilities in the orchestra as a whole. It is said that, for Mahler, the idea of Nature symbolized all the beauty in the whole world. The Third is a powerfully demanding symphony to conduct, to perform and to experience. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is an ensemble composed of incredible musicians at the top of their game; they were more than up to the challenge.
Orozco-Estrada, who studied conducting in Vienna, has lived there since 1997, and who has been named the next chief conductor of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, has a strong affinity for Mahler’s music and has conducted his symphonies frequently with leading orchestras. He is one of the most sought-after conductors of his generation in the world today, holding simultaneous current positions as music director of the Houston Symphony, chief conductor of the Frankfort Radio Symphony Orchestra, and principal guest conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
“Mahler’s music is very challenging: it demands the highest virtuosity from every musician. The Third Symphony in particular is very emotional; it gives Mother Nature a voice with the beautiful vocals of the mezzo-soprano solo, children’s choir and female chorus,” said Andrés Orozco-Estrada, quoted in Broadwayworld.com.
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Orozco-Estrada’s confident baton delivered a commanding and convincing performance of this magnificent work. The first movement retained an appropriate degree of independence- after all, Mahler designated it as Part 1 and all the other movements together as Part II! The triumphant marshal theme running through this movement was beautifully rendered. Further, Orozco-Estrada managed to gather the seemingly disparate elements of Part I into a conceptually unified whole. Finally, Part II was projected as a pattern of progressively ascending steps leading toward the cataclysmic finale. Each “interior” movement was accorded full importance, weight, and form; none were rushed.
This symphony has been called “a metaphysical experiment”! Much has been written of the grandness of the myriad expostulatory tunes, the colors, the breathtaking verve and passion. The Orchestra deployed their consummate skills in its vast instrumentation, creating dynamic juxtapositions of timbre and tone, not least in presenting the thundering percussive and heroic brass motifs- especially the vivid horns- throughout the work.
This was a multi-layered journey from the sheer profundity of the opening, through the pastoral beauty of the elegant minuet in the second movement, into the mystery and “bustling” animal magic of the third. In the fourth, the soloist expressed a bright profundity, a spiritual depth; coupled with the lovely and cohesive massed women’s and youthful voices in the fifth, O’Connor soared above, sounding clear, true and mellow.
The handling of the last movement, the great transfixing Adagio, a majestic hymn to life and love, contained a sweeping breadth of line, a sustained sense of reverence, a feeling of sheer exuberant fullness. Orozco-Estrada conducted this giant with balanced pacing that brought the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to the finale without ever sounding tired. The whole concert was a paean to nature in the form of wonderful sound.
For information and tickets to all the great programming of The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, go to www.cso.org