As usual, the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra is leading the way into a new season. For the past few years it has held a brief August festival devoted to the music of a single composer. Now it’s Mahler, whose symphonic output is too huge — in length of compositions, not number of works — to squeeze into one long weekend. So the Mahler cycle is stretching over three years.
On Thursday night in Bass Performance Hall, there was a kind of prelude to this year’s festival. Titled “The Man Behind the Music: The Life and Works of Gustav Mahler,” it presented lively comments by Dr. Carol Reynolds, musical performances by mezzo-soprano Suzanne Mentzer and pianist Brian Connelly, and filmed segments featuring conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya and members of the FWSO rehearsing and talking about Mahler.
The Mentzer-Connelly part of the program included not only songs by Mahler, but ones by his wife, Alma Mahler, as well as Schumann, Brahms and Strauss. What linked most of them was the source of the song texts: Des Knaben Wunderhorn, a hugely influential early 19th century collection of German folk poems. For me, by far the most moving part of the evening was the performance of Mahler’s piano-and-voice setting of “Das himmlische Leben” from that collection. It represents a child’s idea of Heaven, and Mahler used it to conclude his Symphony No. 4, his most lyrical (and restrained) symphonic work.
This year’s festival continues tonight with the Symphony No. 6, Saturday night with the Symphony No. 7 and Sunday night with the Symphony No. 2, or “Resurrection” Symphony. The cycle began last year with the first, fifth and ninth symphonies, so that leaves the third, fourth and eighth to conclude it next year. Wanna bet that the eighth won’t be the grand finale of the cycle? It’s nicknamed “The Symphony of a Thousand.” What could possibly follow that?