Classically Trained: May Mahler's First not be your last

Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 1 and I go way, way back to the year — wait for it — 2003.

I was a car-less and clueless college freshman in Long Beach looking for the beach in a city that really doesn't have much of one. In my travels to find said shoreline through the joys of riding Long Beach Transit, I instead ended up in a music store.

Rather than catching waves that day, I bought a CD of Mahler's First with Leonard Bernstein conducting the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. Within the first minute of the first movement, I was hooked.

I feel even the most un-classically trained among us can be, too.

Not only is the opus nicknamed the "Titan" a great one for Mahler "beginners" — with its wonderful melodies, brilliant use of instrumental color and engaging finale — it also stands in Western music history as one of the most well-regarded first symphonies by any composer.

That said, our own Pacific Symphony is taking on this demanding piece of music — which requires nearly 100 musicians — and two others for its classical series March 31 through April 2 in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall of Costa Mesa.

Keeping with the Costa Mesa-based orchestra's piano-filled year, the program also includes Liszt's "Piano Concerto No. 1," with French solo pianist Lise de la Salle, and Berlioz' "Le Corsaire" overture.

Guest conducting for the 8 p.m. concerts is Justin Brown. The British musician is the music director/principal conductor of the Birmingham-based Alabama Symphony Orchestra and general music director of the Badisches Staatstheater Karlsruhe, a theater and opera house in Germany.

De la Salle, 22, already has a critically acclaimed music background that started at age 4, had her performing live on French radio at 9, and giving a recital at the Louvre at 13. The Paris resident's recordings have won awards and a Recording of the Month distinction by Gramophone magazine, a leading British publication on the world's classical scene.

But back to Mahler.

For those who have never heard Mahler's First, allow me to preview it a bit with words: A deep rumbling from within quietly starts. Then colorful flourishes seem to quickly radiate from it — serene horns, offstage trumpets, lightly dancing woodwinds — like branches reaching outward from a tree's trunk. The result is a beautiful sum that only gets better as the score progresses.

Such nature references are apt when describing the first movement of Mahler's Symphony No. 1, as they are for many composers who were righteously influenced by the birds and the seas, flowers and trees.

Or, as San Francisco Symphony conductor Michael Tilson Thomas so wonderfully put it in his 2001 recording of the masterpiece, Mahler through this work "makes an enormous symphony out of the sonic stuff we all know from our lives. He uses bird calls, the sounds of military bands, folk, salon and cabaret music. He evokes the sound of voices singing, whispering, humming and shrieking — all things we recognize as part of the range of human experience."


The Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra (PSYO) is having a fundraiser concert in Fountain Valley on April 2 for its upcoming tour to Bulgaria this June. Tickets are $50.

The 4 p.m. performance at Dr. Import, 10900 Kalama River Ave., will help the Irvine-based group's 78 musicians be American musical ambassadors in the European home country of PSYO conductor Maxim Eshkenazy. The tickets also include $50 credit to the host car repair shop for services.

Attendees are encouraged to RSVP to Poita Cernius at (949) 294-4101.

BRADLEY ZINT is a copy editor for the Daily Pilot and a classically trained musician. E-mail him story ideas at

If You Go

What: The Pacific Symphony performs Mahler's Symphony No. 1 and other works

Where: Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, Costa Mesa

When: 8 p.m., April 31, March 1 and 2

Cost: Tickets start at $25

Information: Visit or call (714) 755-5799

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