Philadelphia’s sense of history and present pride soared in March 2016 when The Philadelphia Orchestra and its Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, along with a team of top-rank international soloists and massed choirs, marked the centenary of the United States premiere of Mahler’s monumental Eighth Symphony with four performances of the work at Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. Their interpretation was recorded by Deutsche Grammophon for international release on 17 January 2020 and will be available on CD and digitally.
“A century after its US premiere, it is still an event whenever an orchestra performs Mahler’s Eighth Symphony,” comments Nézet-Séguin, an exclusive Deutsche Grammophon artist since May 2018. “We had the chance to reflect on what had happened in those hundred years and get back to the era, around the beginning of the twentieth century, when The Philadelphia Orchestra rose to the top by championing such iconic pieces. Mahler Eight is imposing, impressive – it’s an incredible work. Of course, what we want to hear is our great orchestra, as with any Mahler symphony, but it is important to have the right partners to match them. We were so fortunate to have the crème de la crème of vocal casting anywhere in the world.”
The Canadian conductor’s new Mahler recording marks a return to the core symphonic repertoire with The Philadelphia Orchestra. Maestro and orchestra were joined by eight fine soloists (Angela Meade, Erin Wall, Lisette Oropesa, Elizabeth Bishop, Mihoko Fujimura, Anthony Dean Griffey, Markus Werba and John Relyea), the American Boychoir, Westminster Symphonic Choir and the Choral Arts Society of Washington.
Gustav Mahler (1860–1911) wrote his Eighth Symphony in the space of ten weeks during the summer of 1906. He based the work’s first movement on the ninth-century Latin hymn Veni creator spiritus, and set words from the closing scene of Goethe’s verse tragedy Faust as an extended second part. “I saw the whole piece immediately before my eyes, and only needed to write it down as though it were being dictated to me,” Mahler later reported to his biographer. At the time of its first performance in 1910 the new work was billed as the “Symphony of a Thousand”, a clever marketing line used to stoke audience interest in a score that explores themes of redemption through the power of love.
When Leopold Stokowski conducted the composition’s American premiere with The Philadelphia Orchestra in March 1916 at Philadelphia’s Academy of Music, he did so in company with over a thousand fellow performers. One hundred years later, almost to the day, Yannick Nézet-Séguin packed the stage of The Philadelphia Orchestra’s current home with over four hundred singers and instrumentalists, “who made as much sound as the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall could hold,” as critic David Patrick Stearns recalled in his review for The Philadelphia Inquirer. “Certainly,” he continued,” the experience was sublime, transcendent, all the ultra-superlative things one saves for a piece like this.”
Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s forthcoming schedule includes, among others, different concert programs with The Philharmonia Orchestra (23–26, 30–31 January, 1–2 February) as well as performances of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony with the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra at home in Rotterdam and on tour to Paris, Essen and Baden-Baden (16, 18, 21 & 22 February 2020), and of the composer’s Third Symphony with the Berliner Philharmoniker in their home town (27, 28 & 29 February) and in Baden-Baden (11 April).