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Classically Trained: May Mahler's First not be your last

March 24, 2011|By Bradley Zint

Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 1 and I go way, way back to the year — wait for it — 2003.

I was a car-less and clueless college freshman in Long Beach looking for the beach in a city that really doesn't have much of one. In my travels to find said shoreline through the joys of riding Long Beach Transit, I instead ended up in a music store.

Rather than catching waves that day, I bought a CD of Mahler's First with Leonard Bernstein conducting the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. Within the first minute of the first movement, I was hooked.

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I feel even the most un-classically trained among us can be, too.

Not only is the opus nicknamed the "Titan" a great one for Mahler "beginners" — with its wonderful melodies, brilliant use of instrumental color and engaging finale — it also stands in Western music history as one of the most well-regarded first symphonies by any composer.

That said, our own Pacific Symphony is taking on this demanding piece of music — which requires nearly 100 musicians — and two others for its classical series March 31 through April 2 in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall of Costa Mesa.

Keeping with the Costa Mesa-based orchestra's piano-filled year, the program also includes Liszt's "Piano Concerto No. 1," with French solo pianist Lise de la Salle, and Berlioz' "Le Corsaire" overture.

Guest conducting for the 8 p.m. concerts is Justin Brown. The British musician is the music director/principal conductor of the Birmingham-based Alabama Symphony Orchestra and general music director of the Badisches Staatstheater Karlsruhe, a theater and opera house in Germany.

De la Salle, 22, already has a critically acclaimed music background that started at age 4, had her performing live on French radio at 9, and giving a recital at the Louvre at 13. The Paris resident's recordings have won awards and a Recording of the Month distinction by Gramophone magazine, a leading British publication on the world's classical scene.

But back to Mahler.

For those who have never heard Mahler's First, allow me to preview it a bit with words: A deep rumbling from within quietly starts. Then colorful flourishes seem to quickly radiate from it — serene horns, offstage trumpets, lightly dancing woodwinds — like branches reaching outward from a tree's trunk. The result is a beautiful sum that only gets better as the score progresses.

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