QCSO to tackle a mammoth Mahler for 1st time

Posted Online: March 05, 2014, 12:16 pm
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By Jonathan Turner, jturner@qconline.com
The Quad City Symphony Orchestra's 100th season doesn't begin until this fall, but it's getting a head start on centennial celebrations with a talk by music director Mark Russell Smith on Saturday at 10:30 a.m. at the German American Heritage Center, 712 W. 2nd St., Davenport.

Mr. Smith will discuss Gustav Mahler's massive Third Symphony, which will get its Q-C premiere April 5-6. The 95-minute, six-movement work (the sole piece on the program) was completed in 1896, and actually given its American premiere 100 years ago -- May 9, 1914, in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The conductor's talk will be on how the Third -- the longest of some pretty long Mahler symphonies -- fits into the life of the late-Romantic Austrian composer, who lived from 1860 to 1911. Mr. Smith said he was surprised to find out the QCSO never has performed it before, over 99 years, given that former music director James Dixon "was such a great Mahlerian," he said. "I thought Quad City had done every Mahler symphony."

Among the reasons it hasn't, Mr. Smith surmised, is because "it's big, it's long, Mahler trying to sum up the world, in 95 minutes. It takes a large population." The musical forces require 95 players in the orchestra, and a chorus of about 120, but just women and children -- who represent angels' voices, Mr. Smith said.

And the chorus only sings about five minutes, preceded by a mezzo soprano soloist. Despite being such a long work, it will be done here without intermission, the conductor said.

"It's natural, it's unified, not unlike the (Benjamin Britten) War Requiem, with no intermission," Mr. Smith said of that huge piece he led in 2012. "I think it's meant to be listened to from alpha to omega. Mahler did it both ways." Mr. Smith has conducted the Third at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

Britten's War Requiem was performed in the Quad-Cities with a total of 361 musicians. Mr. Smith said he doesn't shy away from challenges like these.

"You have to have a broad variety of tastes and styles. There are composers you feel more at home with than others, and Mahler is definitely one of those I feel very much at home with," he said. "I grew up with singing, I speak German. It very much appeals to my interests, my sensibilities."

"One of the reasons we're 100 is because of the German heritage the Quad-Cities enjoys," Mr. Smith said. "Part of the community is having an orchestra. We're as old as we are because of that influence."

QCSO marketing director Jared Johnson said the Saturday talk is "part of a campaign to inform the community about massive artistic project that is Mahler's Third Symphony. This is the kind of project the Quad-Cities can be proud to have produced," he said. "The communication campaign includes interviews on public radio, local presentations, and even an online video series."

It's also part of the German American Heritage Center lecture series leading up to the QCSO's centennial year, including a new exhibit on the orchestra's century of excellence, "100 Years 100 Stories," opening on April 25.

"This is a source of community pride; we have something really special here," said GAHC executive director Janet Brown-Lowe. Of the original orchestra musicians, more than two-thirds were German, as was their first conductor, Ludwig Becker of Chicago, a German immigrant.

The Tri-City Symphony played its first concert on May 29, 1916, in the Burtis Opera House in downtown Davenport -- at the time the smallest community in the nation to have a full symphony orchestra. Ms. Brown-Lowe said the QCSO is one of the oldest continuously operating orchestras in the country.

"This type of milestone, when you look at symphonies across the country, they struggled," she said of ensembles that often disbanded and re-formed. "To have made it through the Depression, and not fold, and two world wars, is really an outstanding accomplishment."

The upcoming multimedia exhibit (to run through late July) will display highlights of the orchestra's history, through photos, articles, programs, audio and video, the museum director said. It's being assembled with the help of the Scott County Geneaological Society and students from the graduate museum studies program at Western Illinois University.

Upcoming talks at GAHC will be:
-- Sunday, April 27: Don Wooten presents "Celebrating Richard Strauss (1864-1949), Composer & Conductor."
-- Sunday, June 22: Frederick Morden presents "The Symphony Immigrates to America: From Wiener Schnitzel to Melting Pot."
-- Sunday, July 13: Dennis Loftin (former QCSO percussionist and program notes author) presents the QCSO book, "Celebration of 100 Years."

Mr. Loftin's book is an update of the QCSO 75th anniversary book written by Donald McDonald.

Admission to the GAHC is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, $3 for kids and free for members. For more information, call 563-322-8844 or email kelly.lao@gahc.org.


Local events heading

  Today is Monday, Sept. 22, the 265th day of 2014. There are 100 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: The board of education has granted Thursday as a holiday for the children, with the expectation that parents who desire to have their children attend the Scott County Fair will do so on that day and save irregularity the rest of the week.
1889 -- 125 years ago: The guard fence around the new cement walk at the Harper House has been removed. The blocks are diamond shape, alternating in black and white.
1914 -- 100 years ago: The Rev. R.B. Williams, former pastor of the First Methodist Church, Rock Island, was named superintendent of the Rock Island District.
1939 -- 75 years ago: Abnormally high temperatures and lack of rainfall in Illinois during the past week have speeded maturing of corn and soybean crops.
1964 -- 50 years ago: Installation of a new television system in St. Anthony's Hospital, which includes a closed circuit channel as well as the three regular Quad-Cities channels, has been completed and now is in operation.
1989 -- 25 years ago: When the new Moline High School was built in 1958, along with it were plans to construct a football field in the bowl near 34th Street on the campus. Wednesday afternoon, more than 30 years later, the Moline Board of Education Athletic Board sent the ball rolling toward the possible construction of that field by asking superintendent Richard Hennigan to take to the board of education a proposal to hire a consultant.

(More History)