Michael Tilson Thomas conducts the San Francisco Symphony in performances of Mahler’s Symphony No 7 at Davies Symphony Hall this week.
It’s no secret that MTT has a particular affinity for the music of Gustav Mahler. In an interview recorded in 2011 he remembers very clearly “the moment that Mahler’s music reached and grabbed me”. He was aged 13, and heard – for the first time – the last movement of Das Lied von der Erde. “…. and really,” he said, “I divide my life between before I heard that recording … and after I heard it. The music made a stunning impression on me.”
That “stunning impression” has never left the Maestro. He and the San Francisco Symphony have established themselves amongst the foremost interpreters of Mahler’s music through their performances and the Symphony’s Mahler recording project. Launched in 2001 and completed in 2010, the project involved the recording of all of Mahler’s symphonies, as well as his works for voice, chorus and orchestra, on the Symphony’s in-house recording label, SFS Media. This Mahler cycle has to date been awarded a combined 7 Grammy® Awards – including two for the Symphony No 7, and three for the two-disc Symphony No 8 and Adagio from Symphony No 10.
Mahler began writing his Seventh Symphony during the summer of 1904, but as Europe’s most famous conductor at the time, he was unable to continue working on it during the following concert season. He returned to his summer residence on the Wörthersee in southern Austria in June 1905, but still the necessary inspiration to continue with the symphony eluded him, until his return across the lake from a trip to the Dolomites – where the rhythm of the oars dipping into the water, he later said, provided the inspiration for the introduction to the symphony. (Michael Steinberg) The work was completed in the summer of 1905, but wasn’t performed until September 19, 1908, when Mahler himself conducted the Czech Philharmonic in the world premiere at Prague’s Rudolfinum cultural center.
Michael Tilson Thomas first conducted the Symphony No 7 with the San Francisco Symphony in 2000, and recorded it for the Mahler project in 2005. The two Grammys were awarded for Best Classical Album and Best Orchestral Performance. It’s a work which they have performed on two tours – in New York City and Purchase NY during the 2005 East Coast tour, and on the 2007 European Tour during which they visited Edinburgh, London, Berlin, Frankfurt and Lucerne. This week’s performances of the Symphony No 7 will be the first by MTT and the SFS since that 2007 tour.
The Symphony is also one of the works which MTT and the San Francisco Symphony will be performing – in Ann Arbor, Princeton and Carnegie Hall – during their seven-city US tour next month. For details of the tour itinerary, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.
Complete box sets of the Mahler cycle recordings are available on vinyl and SACD from the SF Symphony online shop. Mahler also features in an episode of MTT and the San Francisco Symphony’s Keeping Score television series. Keeping Score Mahler is available on DVD and Blu-Ray.
Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony perform Mahler’s Symphony No 7 at Davies Symphony Hall this evening, followed by performances on October 30 and November 1. For further information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.