IN FIRST SEASON AS ARTISTIC DIRECTOR, WOODS' NIGHT-THEMED PROGRAM INCLUDES MAHLER'S SYMPHONY NO.7
Kenneth Woods will oversee his first season as Artistic Director of the Boulder-based Colorado MahlerFest, which takes place from May 16 - 22, curating a schedule of varied events with "night" as its theme. At the core of the week-long festival is Mahler's Symphony No. 7, sometimes referred to as "Song of the Night." Other highlights include the US premiere of Viennese composer Kurt Schwertsik's Nachtmusiken ("Night Music") and Schönberg's Verklärte Nacht ("Transfigured Night").
With its combination of conducting, symposia, pre-concert lectures, films, community engagement and blog posts, MahlerFest's format plays perfectly into Woods' multifarious hands. "For me," he says, "Mahler has a singular creative voice. His music should be experienced as an immersive, transformative experience."
The Colorado MahlerFest opens on May 16 with the screening of a new film by Jason Starr - who frequently trains his lens on the subject of Mahler - Of Love, Death and Beyond: Exploring Mahler's 'Resurrection' Symphony. Narrated by baritone and noted Mahlerian Thomas Hampson, this one-hour documentary explores the biographical, musical and philosophical background of Mahler's monumental Second Symphony, premised on the questions famously posed by the composer, "What is this life - and death? Is there for us, a continuation? Is all this only an empty dream, or does this life and this death have a meaning?"
A second film will be screened on May 20, of "7", a full-length ballet set to Mahler's Seventh Symphony by Germany's Ballet am Rhein choreographer Martin Schläpfer and filmed by Ralph Goertz of the Düsseldorf-based Institut für Kunstdokumentation und Szenografie. Reviewing an August 2015 performance of "7", TheArtsDesk.com observed, "Like the music, the dance is a tour de force of energy and invention ... a deeply serious, deeply joyful fusion of dance and music."
The musical offerings get under way on May 18 with a night-themed chamber music concert featuring a selection of songs by Brahms, Mahler, Schubert and Strauss, and concluding with the original string sextet version of Schönberg's Verklärte Nacht, widely considered to be the Vienna-born composer's early, break-through work.
Orchestral concerts take place on May 21 and 22, with Woods conducting the Colorado MahlerFest Orchestra - a handpicked group of musicians, over half of them from Colorado, who come together once a year united by their love of the composer's music - in Mahler's Symphony No. 7 and the US premiere of Kurt Schwertsik's Nachtmusiken. Mahler's Seventh contains two movements titled Nachtmusik - the second, compared by the composer to Rembrandt's haunting painting The Night Watch; and the fourth, an intimate "amoroso" with reduced instrumentation and hushed sonorities. Schwertsik's 20-minute work genially reflects on the music of Mahler, including the "night music" of the Seventh, instrumental touches of glockenspiel and accordion, and evocative forms such as a waltz and a march.
Broadening the MahlerFest's educational remit, Woods has launched the new Mahler Conducting Fellowship Program. Three fellows - Singapore-born Boon Hua Lien who is currently the Eastman Conducting Fellow of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and Assistant Conductor of the Eastman Philharmonia; Francis Sully, founder and Music Director of the New Orleans-based New Resonance Orchestra; and Michael Young, co-founder and Artistic Director of the London-based Beethoven Orchestra for Humanity - will attend daily score study and seminar sessions with Woods, work with guest lecturers and speakers, and conduct in a public master class. The fellows, who will each receive a full scholarship worth nearly $2,000, will experience hands-on opportunities to conduct the central works of the XXIX Mahlerfest, Mahler's Symphony No. 7 and Kurt Schwertsik's Nachtmusiken, as well as Erwin Stein's chamber orchestra arrangement of Mahler's Symphony No. 4. Further information about the MahlerFest Fellows can be found here.
On the days in between, master classes with the MahlerFest fellows and orchestral rehearsals will be free and open to the public. The annual MahlerFest symposium will take place on May 21 with an international consortium of scholars, presenters and performers discussing perspectives on Mahler's Seventh and more.
Woods is only the second Artistic Director in Colorado MahlerFest's 28-year history. He succeeds Robert Olson who founded the festival in 1988, as an annual celebration of the life and music of Gustav Mahler. Throughout one week every May, the festival explores Mahler through symposia, exhibits, films and the performance of a major symphonic work by the composer. MahlerFest is currently in the midst of its third cycle of Mahler's symphonic compositions. In 2005, MahlerFest received the Gold Medal of the Vienna-based International Gustav Mahler Society, an honor so far bestowed on only one other American organization, the New York Philharmonic.
Gustav Mahler's music has been a lifelong source of inspiration for Kenneth Woods, and has played an important part in his career. He has conducted acclaimed performances of the symphonies and songs across the Americas and Europe. His first recording of Mahler's music, Schoenberg's chamber ensemble versions of Das Lied von der Erde and Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Somm Records, 2011), received an IRR Outstanding rosette from International Record Review. Off the podium, Woods is in demand as an essayist and speaker on Mahler's life and music. He has given talks and participated in panel discussions on Mahler for the BBC and NPR, and was the official blogger of The Bridgewater Hall's Mahler in Manchester (UK) series in 2010-11. In his native US, Woods achieved national media recognition as conductor of the Pendleton-based Oregon East Symphony for staging Redneck Mahler, an event that galvanized the community of a small, western Rodeo town and gave "Mahler the ride of his life" (The Oregonian).