You might be tempted to ask, “Who isn’t performing in this weekend’s Bakersfield Symphony concert?” as the orchestra’s season finale is truly a community-wide event.
The BSO concludes its 2018-19 season with a performance of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 in C minor, known as the “Resurrection” Symphony. Composed in sections between 1888 and 1893, the “Resurrection” symphony is Mahler’s attempt to work through the themes of loss, death, despair and, finally, an eternal afterlife of love and mercy. BSO conductor Stilian Kirov said Mahler was looking for the strength within to overcome these struggles.
“I believe the theme of resurrection, struggle and life beyond death has always been of a great inspiration to humanity but it also feels that today we need this spiritual aspect more and more in our lives,” Kirov wrote in an email.
Kirov likened the symphony to a “masterful orchestra universe.”
Drawing inspiration from Beethoven, Mahler organized his second symphony over five movements instead of the standard four, and included two major vocal elements: an alto solo in the fourth movement and a choir in the fifth movement. It is in these two movements that the resolution of all the symphony’s protagonist, an unnamed hero struggling through that loss, death and despair, finally finds resolution.
Mahler took some 90 minutes to express such lofty themes, and essentially doubled the size of his orchestra to get the emotional impact he needed, so the BSO has had to call out the reserves: The score calls for 10 horns and 10 trumpets; 20-plus woodwinds; two harps; organ/keyboard; three sets of timpani and added percussion instruments. Some instrumentalists will also be doubling on lesser-used instruments to reach the highest and lowest notes in the orchestra: piccolos to contrabassoons, double basses with an added C string at the bottom of the range. The overall effect will be one of tremendous dynamic range, timbral variety and tonal color.
Joining the orchestra are the combined singers of the Bakersfield Master Chorale; Bakersfield College Chamber Singers and CSUB Singers, along with soprano soloist Jamie Chamberlin and mezzo-soprano Karen Mushegain. Mushegain will sing a solo in the fourth movement, and the combined choirs will lead the way in the fifth and final movement, in which the choirs sing for over half of the 30-minute section.
It is in these movements that we get the fullest expression of Mahler’s emotional journey. Mahler used a collection of German folk poems, known as the Des Knaben Wunderhorn (“A Youth’s Magic Horn”), which he had already made a significant part of his musical world in art songs and other works. Pulling the protagonist out of despair is the fourth movement’s alto solo singing the text “Urlicht” (“Primeval Light”), in which the protagonist declares “I am from God and shall return to God!” The fifth movement text, part of which was written by Mahler, continues in this triumphant vein, declaring victory over death and pain.
The choirs have been incorporating rehearsals of their 17 minutes of music with rehearsals for their respective concerts, tours and festivals, and are joining with the BSO this week for an intense series of rehearsals leading to Saturday’s performance.
“The students love it,” said BC choir director Jennifer Garrett. “We’ve been working with the Bakersfield Symphony for five years now, and the students love working with Stilian.”
Garrett noted that although the concert takes place after the spring semester is over, students are changing their personal plans to make sure they get to perform in the concert. Garrett said she’s right there with them.
“I’ve never been in a live performance; I’ve never taught it. I’m probably more excited than they are,” Garrett said.
Garrett said she was especially grateful to the Master Chorale for organizing the three choirs into a single choir — including handling mundane tasks as creating a seating chart for singers based on height to make sure each has line of sight with Kirov.
Master Chorale music director Robert Provencio has a long history of working with students, at CSUB and in such collaborations as this.
“The arts exist to help us reach beyond the mundane and experience the timeless fellowship of the human spirit in its most perfect form even if just for a moment,” Provencio wrote. “I think that sharing this with the college singers gives us the opportunity to demonstrate that fellowship in a most tangible way.”
“The choir formed for this piece is united in its love of music and the lofty ideals celebrated so often in the choral art,” Provencio added.
As if to show that collaboration further, Kirov shows he’s in violent agreement with his colleagues.
“I feel the purpose of this project apart from presenting this magnificent musical piece here in Bakersfield is also to bring different musical groups together, and in this case, we collaborate with the finest choruses in Bakersfield,” Kirov wrote. “The exchange and the process of building something so inspiring together is extremely gratifying.”
To make this an even more inclusive concert, the evening will open with a performance by the Bakersfield Youth Symphony, conducted by Kirov. The Youth Symphony recently completed a tour to Wakayama, Japan, one of Bakersfield’s Sister Cities.
“I believe this is the true power of music — to enlighten us and to bring people together,” Kirov wrote. “I cannot be more excited to be a part of this project and looking forward to an unforgettable concert.”