Mahler: Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection) – UC Davis

– 87min – ‘RESURRECTION’ Regina Symphony Orchestra – Conexus Arts Centre

– – Conducting Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 in C minor is better than sex, or so Victor Sawa, the musical director of the Regina Symphony Orchestra, has heard.

After spending the past week with rehearsals, Sawa will get the chance to find out for himself Saturday when the RSO presents Resurrection.

Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 is no small affair.

The piece also requires a mixed choir and two vocal soloists. World-renowned singers, soprano Monica Huisman and mezzo-soprano Sarah Fryer, along with the Regina Philharmonic Chorus, have stepped in to do the job.

Mahler’s piece also involves more musicians than the RSO has. Mahler’s symphony requires more than 90. The RSO only has about 60 regular musicians.

Sawa was able to borrow some extra musicians.

“We have musicians coming out of the woodwork,” said Sawa. “There coming from all over Saskatchewan and some of them are even from out of province.”

Some of these visiting musicians will play offstage for acoustic and dramatic effect.

For instance, in one part of the symphony, offstage horns play against onstage flutes signifying the last sound heard on earth prior to Judgment Day.

Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 is about death. The first movement signifies a funeral and asks the question: “Is there life after death?” The movement sounds like a funeral march and can be angry and violent.

The second movement reflects on the joyous times in the life of the deceased.

The third movement is about a complete loss of faith and contemplates the possible meaninglessness to life.

The fourth movement is about a rebirth of faith. Fryer, who sings during this movement, is supposed to sound like a child in heaven.

The fifth movement revisits the doubting in the third movement, but eventually returns to faith. The deceased person will always be remembered and have eternal life, said Sawa.”It ends on a positive note,” he said.

Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 is 85 minutes long. The final movement itself is 30 minutes long.

Mahler hadn’t intended on writing such a lengthy piece. The symphony began as Totenfeier (Funeral Rites). It was a one movement symphonic poem, which was written in 1888.

Five years later, Mahler added three more movements to the piece. He then set the work aside.

“He didn’t know how to end it. Then he went to a friend’s funeral and heard a poem read and it clicked. He was inspired to write the last movement,” said Sawa, referring to the funeral of conductor Hans von Bulow, where a part of the poem Die Auferstehung (The Resurrection) was read.

Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 holds a special place in Sawa’s heart. He first heard the piece while in high school.

It was a life changing event, which inspired him to pursue a musical career. Fifteen year’s later, Sawa, who plays the clarinet, had the chance to play the piece with the Kitchner-Waterloo Orchestra. The conductor of that orchestra gave Sawa the chance to conduct a couple of bars from Symphony No. 2, which made Sawa realize he wanted to be a conductor.

“I thought I have to do this,” said Sawa about both his career as a conductor and wanting the chance to conduct Symphony No. 2.

Conducting Symphony No. 2 has its challenges. Since some of the musicians are off stage, they have to watch Sawa conduct from close-circuit TVs.

© The Leader-Post (Regina) 2007