Seattle Symphony sets tone for ambitious season with Mahler choral epic

Seattle Symphony’s seventh season under Music Director Ludovic Morlot begins with a program pairing Mahler’s transcendent “Resurrection” Symphony and a Berlioz “lyrical scene” inspired by Cleopatra.

Gustav Mahler knew how to persist.

In 1888, the twenty-something Mahler played the first movement of his Second Symphony on the piano for conductor Hans von Bülow, an important early mentor. Bülow was famous for, among other things, introducing the world to a score once regarded as “unplayable”: Wagner’s epochal “Tristan und Isolde.”

So it must have been shocking when the eminent conductor told Mahler that he could make no sense of his young colleague’s music. “‘Tristan’ is as simple as a Haydn symphony compared to this!” Bülow declared.

Concert preview

‘Mahler’s Second Symphony’

Mahler’s Second Symphony and Berlioz’s “The Death of Cleopatra,” 7:30 p.m. Sept. 21, 8 p.m. Sept. 23, 2 p.m. Sept. 24, Benaroya Hall, Seattle; tickets from $22. (206-215-4747 or

Note: Due to a leg injury, Seattle Symphony Music Director Ludovic Morlot will not be conducting these performances. In his place will be Nashville Symphony Music Director Giancarlo Guerrero.

Mahler pressed on, though, and six years later completed his Second Symphony. Known unofficially as the “Resurrection Symphony” (not the composer’s own title), the Second is a metaphysical epic in music that concludes with one of the most uplifting choral outbursts ever to shake a concert hall’s rafters.

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It makes for a splendid entree to the Seattle Symphony’s ambitious new season, which in addition to the Mahler will feature several other major collaborations with the Seattle Symphony Chorale — including Hector Berlioz’s Requiem in November and Igor Stravinsky’s “Persephone” and “Les Noces” in April.

“What I think is so fascinating about the Second Symphony is that this is where Mahler found the courage to develop his voice in ways no one had done before,” says Ludovic Morlot, beginning his seventh season as music director of the SSO.

(Morlot will not be conducting the Mahler performances as he recovers from a leg injury, the symphony announced on Tuesday. Taking his place will be Nashville Symphony Music Director Giancarlo Guerrero.)

Mahler’s First Symphony — which had yet to be premiered when he began…

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