Events & Tickets
THIS IS AN ONLINE CONCERT, AVAILABLE FOR 72 HOURS. NWS Insiders receive this concert as part of their digital membership and do not need to purchase the concert stream separately.
Join the New World Symphony family in celebrating our Co-Founder and Artistic Director Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT). Gustav Mahler’s symphonies have changed the way we think of music. And MTT is changing the way we hear them. Six of his 12 Grammy Awards celebrate his explosively fresh interpretations of these symphonic masterpieces. Encounter extraordinary expression by MTT’s side as he explores Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, a rich panorama of life showcasing tender bereavement and beautiful jubilation. Gil Shaham shares the vigor and beauty in fellow virtuoso violinist Joseph Boulogne’s Ninth Concerto.
Approx. Duration: 22 minutes
Concerto No. 9 in G major for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 8
Approx. Duration: 68 minutes
Symphony No. 5
Moving stormily, with the greatest vehemence
Scherzo: Strong, not too fast
Adagietto: Very slow
Rondo-Finale: Allegro – Allegro giocoso
The New World Symphony warmly welcomes the return of the following alumni, who are joining the orchestra for these performances:
Katherine Bormann, First Violin, The Cleveland Orchestra; NWS Fellow 2006-10
Philip Payton, Violin, New York City Freelance Artist; NWS Fellow 1998-2002
Caroline Gilbert, Principal Viola, Buffalo Philharmonic; NWS Fellow 2014-17
Brant Taylor, Cello, Chicago Symphony; NWS Fellow 1997
Kristen Bruya, Principal Bass, Minnesota Orchestra; NWS Fellow 2000-04
Ebonee Thomas, Assistant Professor of Flute, University of Missouri—Kansas City Conservatory; NWS Fellow 2004-08
Todd Cope, Principal Clarinet, Montreal Symphony; NWS Fellow 2007-10
Alberto Suarez, Principal Horn, Kansas City Symphony; NWS Fellow 2002-06
Gregory Miller, Director of the School of Music and Professor of Horn, University of Maryland; NWS Fellow 1991-94
Mark Grisez, Principal Trumpet, Columbus Symphony; NWS Fellow 2016-19
Concerto No. 9 in G major for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 8
Approximate duration: 22 minutes
Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, was a champion fencer before his 20th birthday. He was also a renowned boxer, dancer and marksman, but his real love was music, and his prowess with the violin allowed him to become the leader of a powerhouse orchestra in Paris and a personal instructor to Marie Antoinette.
Boulogne’s French father owned sugar plantations on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, and he amassed incredible wealth through the forced labor of enslaved Africans, including the woman who gave birth to the future star of French music. Going against the code that normally would have passed enslaved status from mother to son, Boulogne was raised openly as his father’s child, and from the age of 13 he received the finest aristocratic education available in France.
Seeing a rise in popularity of his published sheet music, Boulogne composed this Violin Concerto in G major as his Opus 8, adding to a catalog consisting mostly of violin concertos as well as contributions to the sinfonia concertante genre. This Concerto exemplifies the clear and balanced aesthetic of the early Classical period, rooted in a combination of songlike phrasing and instrumental virtuosity. The slow movement, set in a minor key, is exceptionally heartfelt and vulnerable, and the rondo finale uses that episodic structure brilliantly, setting up each return of the distinctive three notes that begin the main theme. Musicians of Boulogne’s day took note of this rich and mature style of concerto discourse, perhaps none more than Mozart, who must have known Boulogne through scores even before a pivotal visit to Paris in 1778 when he got to see this astonishing violinist-composer in action.
Symphony No. 5
Approximate duration: 68 minutes
Gustav Mahler began his Fifth Symphony in the summer of 1901, a few months after nearly dying from an intestinal hemorrhage. By the time he returned to his summer villa to complete the Symphony in 1902, his world had turned much rosier: He had met and married Alma Schindler, and she was expecting their first child. Mahler tinkered with the Symphony’s orchestration until the premiere performance, which he conducted in October 1904 in Cologne, and he continued to make various changes in the following years. Reflecting later about his struggles to perfect the Fifth Symphony, he wrote, “Clearly the routine I had acquired in the first four symphonies had deserted me altogether, as though a totally new message demanded a new technique.”
Mahler’s first four symphonies drew much of their energy from vocal music, with the first quoting Lieder melodies and the next three incorporating actual singers. With the Fifth Symphony, Mahler’s “new message” steered him closer to absolute music than in any previous work. One new emphasis in Mahler’s musical thinking was counterpoint, triggered by a study of Bach’s music. The Bach influence arises directly in brief fugal passages, and more generally in the careful layering of simultaneous motives. On a larger scale, the work reflects the epic tradition of Beethoven’s Fifth and Ninth symphonies, which, like Mahler’s Fifth, journey from minor-key openings to major-key conclusions.
The somber opening movement of the Fifth Symphony, labeled Funeral March, begins with a trumpet theme of three fast notes leading into an accented downbeat, a figure that echoes Beethoven’s “fate” motive from his Fifth Symphony as well as a related snippet from Mahler’s Fourth Symphony. The fragment builds to a climactic ascent, joined by a thunderous chord.
Much of the movement dwells in permutations of that opening figure or in a contrasting lament from the strings. The greatest departure comes in an episode with a new tempo characterized as Plötzlich schneller. Leidenschaftlich. Wild. (“Suddenly faster. Passionate. Wild.”) The music is somehow sincere and grotesque at the same time, illuminating an inner facet of the slow dirge that eventually regains its hold.
Mahler grouped the Symphony’s five movements into three larger parts, with Part I containing the Funeral March along with its ferocious counterpart, marked Stürmisch bewegt, mit größter Vehemenz (“Moving stormily, with the greatest vehemence”). The fervent opening passage, saturated with braying brass and winds and impassioned string melodies, dissipates into a slow and nostalgic theme that echoes aspects of the Funeral March. Near the end, a brilliant brass chorale flirts with a noble resolution, but the chaotic and despairing music wins out—for now.
Part II of the Symphony consists of a single movement: an enormous Scherzo. The vigorous horn calls and three-beat sway evoke the rustic atmosphere of a Ländler dance in the Austrian countryside. Other passages turn more intimate and urbane, closer in spirit to a Viennese waltz. In a letter he sent to Alma after the Symphony’s first rehearsal, Mahler seized on the multifaceted Scherzo as presenting a particular conundrum for conductors and audiences alike. “The Scherzo is the very devil of a movement,” he wrote. “I see it is in for a peck of troubles!”
Part III of the Symphony begins with the iconic Adagietto, which drapes a simple, singing melody over poignant harmonies enunciated with angelic flecks of harp. A friend of the Mahlers, conductor Willem Mengelberg, indicated that the Adagietto was a musical love letter from Gustav to Alma; others have recognized an elegiac tint to its beauty, including Leonard Bernstein, who conducted it at a memorial service for Robert Kennedy.
The Rondo-Finale once again gives the horn a prominent role, joined at the beginning by other pastoral woodwind solos. Then, in a sign of Bach’s influence, a fugue works its way through the strings as the finale gathers momentum. A variant of the same bright chorale that offered false promise in the second movement returns at the end, and this time it delivers the Symphony to a triumphant conclusion, completing the strange and scenic journey from C-sharp minor to D major.
Even Mahler himself seemed overwhelmed by the perplexing depth and range of this Symphony. “Oh, heavens,” he wrote in that same letter to Alma, “what is the public to make of this chaos in which new worlds are forever being engendered, only to crumble into ruin the next moment? What are they to say to this primeval music, this foaming, roaring, raging sea of sound, to these dancing stars, to these breathtaking, iridescent, and flashing breakers?”
-- © 2022 Aaron Grad
Aaron Grad is a composer, guitarist and writer based in Seattle. Besides providing program notes for the New World Symphony, he has been the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra’s program annotator since 2005 and also contributes notes to the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and Seattle Symphony.
Michael Tilson Thomas is Co-Founder and Artistic Director Laureate of the New World Symphony, America’s Orchestral Academy; Music Director Laureate of the San Francisco Symphony; and Conductor Laureate of the London Symphony Orchestra. In addition to these posts, he maintains an active presence guest conducting with the major orchestras of Europe and the United States.
Born in Los Angeles, Mr. Tilson Thomas is the third generation of his family to follow an artistic career. His grandparents, Boris and Bessie Thomashefsky, were founding members of the Yiddish Theater in America. His father, Ted Thomas, was a producer in the Mercury Theater Company in New York before moving to Los Angeles where he worked in films and television. His mother, Roberta Thomas, was the head of research for Columbia Pictures.
Mr. Tilson Thomas began his formal studies at the University of Southern California, where he studied piano with John Crown, and conducting and composition with Ingolf Dahl. At age 19 he was named Music Director of the Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra. During this same period, he was the pianist and conductor in master classes of Gregor Piatigorsky and Jascha Heifetz and worked with Stravinsky, Boulez, Stockhausen and Copland on premieres of their compositions at Los Angeles’ Monday Evening Concerts.
In 1969, after winning the Koussevitzky Prize at Tanglewood, he was appointed Assistant Conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. That year he also made his New York debut with the Boston Symphony and gained international recognition after replacing Music Director William Steinberg in mid-concert. He was later appointed Principal Guest Conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra where he remained until 1974. He was Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic from 1971 to 1979 and a Principal Guest Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic from 1981 to 1985. His guest conducting includes appearances with the major orchestras of Europe and the United States.
Mr. Tilson Thomas is a two-time Carnegie Hall Perspectives artist, curating and conducting series at the hall from 2003 to 2005 and from 2018 to 2019. In the most recent series, he led Carnegie Hall’s National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America both at the hall and on tour in Asia, opened the Carnegie Hall season over two evenings with the San Francisco Symphony, conducted two programs with the Vienna Philharmonic and finished with a pair of concerts leading the New World Symphony.
A winner of eleven Grammy Awards, Mr. Tilson Thomas appears on more than 120 recordings. His discography includes The Mahler Project, a collection of the composer’s complete symphonies and works for voice and orchestra performed with the San Francisco Symphony, in addition to pioneering recordings of music by Charles Ives, Carl Ruggles, Steve Reich, John Cage, Ingolf Dahl, Morton Feldman, George Gershwin, John McLaughlin and Elvis Costello. His recordings span repertoire from Bach and Beethoven to Debussy and Stravinsky, and from Sarah Vaughan to Metallica.
His television work includes a series with the London Symphony Orchestra for BBC Television, broadcasts of the New York Philharmonic Young People’s Concerts from 1971 to 1977 and numerous productions on PBS’s Great Performances. With the San Francisco Symphony, he created a multi-tiered media project, Keeping Score, which includes a television series, web sites, and radio programs. He received a Peabody Award for his SFS Media radio series The MTT Files.
Mr. Tilson Thomas’s compositions are published by G. Schirmer. In 1991, he and the New World Symphony were presented in a series of benefit concerts for UNICEF in the United States, featuring Audrey Hepburn as narrator of his work From the Diary of Anne Frank, which was commissioned by UNICEF. This piece has since been translated and performed in many languages worldwide. In August 1995, he led the Pacific Music Festival Orchestra in the premiere of his composition Shówa/Shoáh, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. His vocal music includes settings of poetry by Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, which were premiered by Thomas Hampson and Renée Fleming, respectively. In 2016, Yuja Wang premiered his piano piece You Come Here Often?.
Mr. Tilson Thomas' song cycle Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind, a setting of Carl Sandburg’s poem, was premiered in 2016 by the New World Symphony, with Measha Brueggergosman as soloist. In 2019 the piece was recorded for Medici.tv at the New World Center and given its New York premiere as part of Mr. Tilson Thomas’s second Carnegie Hall Perspectives series. His first Perspectives series also featured performances of his own compositions, including Island Music for four marimbas and percussion; Notturno for solo flute and strings, featuring soloist Paula Robison; and new settings of poems by Rainer Maria Rilke. In 2020, he led the San Francisco Symphony in the world premiere of his six-part song cycle Meditations on Rilke, and he subsequently conducted the work at the Cleveland Orchestra. Additional compositions include Street Song for brass instruments; Agnegram, an overture for orchestra; and Urban Legend, a concerto for contrabassoon that was premiered by the San Francisco Symphony. In June 2020, SFS Media released an album of works composed by Mr. Tilson Thomas, featuring live concert recordings of From the Diary of Anne Frank, narrated by mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard, and Meditations on Rilke, sung by mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke and bass-baritone Ryan McKinny.
Mr. Tilson Thomas is an Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France, is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, was Musical America’s Musician of the Year and Conductor of the Year, was Gramophone magazine’s Artist of the Year and has been profiled on CBS’s 60 Minutes and ABC’s Nightline. He has been awarded the National Medal of Arts, has been inducted into the California Hall of Fame and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and was a 2019 recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors.
Gil Shaham is one of the foremost violinists of our time: his flawless technique combined with his inimitable warmth and generosity of spirit has solidified his renown as an American master. He is sought after throughout the world for concerto appearances with leading orchestras and conductors, and regularly gives recitals and appears with ensembles on the world’s great concert stages and at the most prestigious festivals.
Mr. Shaham’s highlights of recent years include a recording and performances of J.S. Bach’s complete sonatas and partitas for solo violin, and recitals with his long time duo partner pianist, Akira Eguchi. He regularly appears with the Berlin Philharmonic; Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco symphonies; Israel, Los Angeles and New York philharmonics; Orchestre de Paris; and in multi-year residencies with the orchestras of Montreal, Stuttgart and Singapore.
Mr. Shaham has more than two dozen concerto and solo CDs to his name, earning multiple Grammy Awards, a Grand Prix du Disque, Diapason d’Or and Gramophone Editor’s Choice. His most recent recording in the series 1930s Violin Concertos Vol. 2 was nominated for a Grammy Award. His latest recording of Beethoven and Brahms Concertos with The Knights was released in 2021.
Mr. Shaham was awarded an Avery Fisher Career Grant in 1990, and in 2008, received the coveted Avery Fisher Prize. In 2012 he was named “Instrumentalist of the Year” by Musical America. He plays the 1699 “Countess Polignac” Stradivarius, and lives in New York City with his wife, violinist Adele Anthony, and their three children.