Evening of May 22 presented by

David Zinman conducts Mahler’s Fifth

“Stephen Kovacevich is a master to be admired: faithful to the spirit of the music yet always individual.” (International Piano)

Maison symphonique de Montréal
Ticket Prices
$41* to $193*
Preferred seating starting at $110*
Concert dates
DAVID ZINMAN, conductorchef d’orchestre

Presentation of the concert

Piano Concerto No. 18, K.456 (Paradis)
Symphony No. 5


After 50 years of conducting the finest orchestras, David Zinman still succeeds in communicating his passion for music. With a discography of over 100 titles to his credit, he recently completed the entire cycle of Mahler’s Symphonies with the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra. Here he leads the OSM in his vision of the Fifth Symphony, which ranges in structure from the somber pace of a funeral march to the victorious climax of the choral.

The program will be completed by Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 18, featuring Stephen Kovacevich, “a master to be admired: faithful to the spirit of the music yet always individual” (International Piano).

Mozart and Mahler often turn up side by side on symphony programs. Neither was born in Vienna, but both enjoyed their greatest acclaim and financial success there, Mozart in the 1780s, Mahler a little more than a century later. If there is one genre in which Mozart excelled consistently above all others, it is the piano concerto. Nearly every work is a masterpiece. For Mahler, it was the symphony. Tonight’s program offers a prime example of each.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Born in Salzburg, January 27, 1756
Died in Vienna, December 5, 1791

Piano Concerto No. 18 in B-flat major, K. 456

Allegro vivace
Andante un poco sostenuto
Allegro vivace

This concerto is the fifth of six Mozart composed in rapid succession in 1784 for “Klavierland,” as he referred to Vienna at the time. Mozart was riding high on fame and, for a brief time, fortune, exulting in his new-found success as composer, teacher, and especially piano virtuoso. K. 456 has never been one of Mozart’s more popular concertos, but in charm, freshness, structural mastery and airy buoyancy of the outer movements, it can hold its own with virtually any of this composer’s other works in the genre. In addition, the prominence of the woodwind choir, both alone and in dialogue with the soloist, provides an entire case study in Mozartian orchestration. The listener is invariably left with the question, “Why isn’t this wonderful work played more often?”

The concerto opens with the same martial rhythm that Mozart used to introduce three other concertos of 1784. Strings, winds and soloist in turn tap it out. But otherwise, the movement leans more towards intimacy and gentle smiles. Pianists have the choice of two different cadenzas Mozart wrote out for this movement (or, of course, one by another hand).

The slow movement is of unusual pathos, written in a key (G minor) this composer reserved for some of his most deeply expressive music – his only two symphonies in a minor key, the String Quintet K. 516, and Pamina’s aria “Ach, ich fühl’s” from The Magic Flute. It is the only movement in a minor key of all six concertos of 1784. The poignant theme is followed by five variations plus a substantial coda. This coda provides one of many examples in the concerto of the prominence of the wind instruments, which in this passage engage in heartfelt dialogue with the soloist while strings remain discreetly in the background.

The darkly introspective mood of the variations is immediately dispelled with the opening of the finale – bright, joyful, infused with the spirit of the hunt, a mood sustained throughout except for one astonishing passage in which Mozart suddenly steers the harmony into a remote region (B minor) while pitting winds and strings against each other in different meters (2/4 vs. 6/8), leaving the soloist to mediate between the two. The episode is brief but startling, and the return to rhythmic stability and the home key of B-flat brings a sense of refreshment. Again Mozart left his own cadenza, which the soloist is free to accept or replace with another. After one final statement of the hunting refrain, the concerto comes to a close with the soloist again in animated conversation with chattering winds.

Gustav Mahler

Born in Kalischt, Bohemia, July 7, 1860
Died in Vienna, May 18, 1911

Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp minor


l. Trauermarsch: In gemessenem Schritt
2. Stürmisch bewegt. Mit grösster Vehemenz


3. Scherzo: Kräftig, nicht zu schnell


4. Adagietto: Sehr langsam
5. Rondo-Finale: Allegro giocoso; frisch

Concertgoers familiar with Mahler’s Fourth Symphony may recall that the first movement contains a trumpet call remarkably similar to that which opens the Fifth. This fact may be regarded symbolically as Mahler’s conscious effort to move ahead in a new direction in the Fifth, yet at the same time to show that the new must build on the foundations of the old. 

Mahler’s new-found and deep acquaintance with Bach probably had much to do with his new compositional style, a style that conductor Bruno Walter called “intensified polyphony.” The orchestral fabric becomes more complicated – more instruments playing more different lines at the same time. His style becomes generally less lyrical, more angular and hard-edged. Hymns of love, childlike faith and quasi-religious messages tend to be replaced by moods of tragic irony, bitterness and cynicism. Mahler conducted the first performance with the Gürzenich Orchestra of Cologne on October 18, 1904.

The Symphony is in five movements, further grouped into three large units, with a huge scherzo serving as the fulcrum to a pair of movements on either side. The work opens with a funeral march, a type of music found in every one of Mahler’s ten symphonies except the Fourth and Eighth. To the ponderous, thickly-scored tread of the march is added a gentle lament in the strings. Suddenly the music erupts in wild, impassioned strains. The ever-changing, kaleidoscopic aspect of Mahler’s orchestration is heard in its fullest expression. Eventually the funeral march music reasserts itself, and after a nightmarish climax, the movement disintegrates in ghostly echoes of the trumpet call.

The turbulent, stormy mood continues in the second movement and is even intensified. Titanic paroxysms of violent rage race uncontrolled in some of the most feverish music ever written. Quiet interludes recall the funeral lament of the first movement. Towards the end of the movement gleams a ray of hope – the brass proclaim a fragment of a victory chorale, an anticipatory gesture that will find its fulfillment in the symphony’s closing pages.

The despair and anguish of the first two movements are abruptly dispelled in the life-affirming Scherzo. The tremendous energy alternates with nostalgic and wistful interludes in waltz or Ländler rhythm.

In the Adagietto – the most famous single movement in all Mahler – we return to a romantic dream world familiar from Mahler’s earlier works, a world of quiet contemplation, benign simplicity, inner peace and escape from harsh reality. This oasis of Innigkeit (inwardness) provides an extraordinary contrast to the sheer exuberance of the previous Scherzo and to the upcoming wildly extroverted Finale. Near the end of the symphony the brass chorale is recalled, heard previously in the second movement, but now bursting forth in full glory and triumph. The metamorphosis from grief and death to joy and life is complete.

For Leonard Bernstein, who did so much to make Mahler the popular composer he is today, Mahler “turned rests into shuddering silences; upbeats into volcanic preparations as for a death blow; Luftpausen became gasps of shock or terrified suspense; accents grew into titanic stresses … Ritardandi were stretched into near-motionlessness; accelerandi became tornadoes; dynamics were refined and exaggerated to a point of neurasthenic sensibility.  Mahler’s marches are like heart attacks, his chorales like all Christendom gone mad. Mahler is German music multiplied by n.”


Robert Markow


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