Houston Symphony's Centennial Finale Features 400 Performers for MAHLER'S SYMPHONY NO. 8 This Weekend
Former Music Director Christoph Eschenbach returns for one of the largest choral-symphonic works ever written, Gustav Mahler's 8th Symphony, tonight and tomorrow, May 9 and 10 at 7:30 pm. Nicknamed the Symphony of a Thousand, Mahler's Symphony No. 8 will be performed by more than 400 musicians, chorus members and soloists together onstage at Jones Hall for an event seen only once before in the Houston Symphony's 100-year history.
Given its magnitude, performances of Mahler's Symphony No. 8 are usually reserved for important celebrations. Fittingly, this month's performance marks the final Classical concert of the Houston Symphony's Centennial Season and the 20th anniversary of its original presentation. Also conducted by then-Music Director Christoph Eschenbach, the work was performed for the first time in the Houston Symphony's history in May of 1994.
"I'm very, very happy that we can do it again for the 100th anniversary. It's a great piece, and it's really the right piece. . . .It's a piece for a celebration," said Maestro Eschenbach.
Although dubbed "Symphony of a Thousand", it is rare to have 1,000 performers on stage. That being said, these two concerts, which will feature a total of 437 performers, will be no small feat. As Steven Brosvik, Houston Symphony General Manager and Chief Operating Officer, and Aurelie Desmarais, Chief of Artistic Planning, state, "Producing a concert of this magnitude requires a great deal of strategy." From securing an international cast of soloists and members of an expanded chorus and orchestra, to coordinating the logistical and artistic needs of each group, the behind-the- scenes production of this work is an art in and of itself.
Making up this roster of 437 are 118 orchestral musicians, 250 members of an expanded Houston Symphony Chorus, including alumni of the Houston Symphony Chorus and 35 student performers from the Prairie View A&M University Chorus and members of the Clear Creek High School and Clear Lake High School Choirs, 60 members of the combined Houston Boychoir and Fort Bend Boys Choir of Texas, 8 vocal soloists, and one conductor.
To put this number in context, a normal large-scale work, such as Verdi's Requiem, would feature approximately 275 people on stage: 95 orchestral musicians, 175 choristers, four soloists and one conductor.
To enhance the educational value, the student choristers will be scattered throughout the Chorus to learn from and engage with their experienced colleagues. They have attended choral rehearsals since January and are working closely with their directors to prepare for what will be a lasting and impactful experience as they are thrust into this professional setting.
To accommodate the more than 150 additional performers, the Houston Symphony's production team will build a special stage extension over the first three rows of audience seating. A larger choral riser, towering 12-rows high with extensions on either end to maximize its capacity from wall to wall, will also be used to provide seating for the more than 300 choral singers. In addition to using every inch of the stage, this production will use every corner of Jones Hall. All available spaces backstage will be put to use as additional rehearsal areas and dressing rooms for each group.
The performances of Mahler's Symphony of a Thousand will be an experience unlike any other, equally memorable for those on stage and in the audience. The powerful outcome generated by the joined forces will create a stunning visual and aural feast as the music is heard and felt throughout Jones Hall.
Performers include Christoph Eschenbach (conductor), Erin Wall (Soprano), Twyla Robinson (Soprano), Marisol Montalvo (Soprano), Kelley O'Connor (Mezzo-soprano), Jill Grove (Mezzo-soprano), John Pickle (Tenor), Markus Werba (Baritone), John Relyea (Bass-baritone), Houston Symphony Chorus and Alumni (Charles Hausmann, Director), Members of the Prairie View A&M University Chorus (A. Jan Taylor, Director), Members of the Clear Creek High School Choir (James Park, Director), Members of the Clear Lake High School Choir (Raul Dominguez, Director), Fort Bend Boys Choir of Texas (William R. Adams, Founder and Artistic Director), and Houston Boychoir (Carole Nelson, Artistic Director).
Tickets start at $39.
In demand as a distinguished guest conductor with the world's finest orchestras and opera houses, Christoph Eschenbach was the Houston Symphony's music director from 1988 to 1999. In 2010, he began his tenure as music director of the National Symphony Orchestra as well as the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. He has led that orchestra on tours in South America, Europe and Oman.
This season has included engagements with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Leipzig's Gewandhaus Orchestra.
As a pianist, he continues his collaboration with baritone Matthias Goerne. The duo has recorded Schubert's three song cycles for the Harmonia Mundi label. Eschenbach has an impressive discography as both a conductor and a pianist, with works ranging from J.S. Bach to music of our time.
Mentored by George Szell and Herbert von Karajan, Eschenbach held the posts of chief conductor and artistic director of Zurich's Tonhalle Orchestra, music director of the Ravinia Festival and artistic director of the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival. His honors include the Légion d'Honneur, Commandeur dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, the Officer's Cross with Star and Ribbon of the German Order of Merit, and the Commander's Cross of the German Order of Merit. He also received the Leonard Bernstein Award from the Pacific Music Festival, where he served as co-artistic director.