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In the beginning, there was Gustav Mahler. Mahler mentored the young conductor Bruno Walter, who became one of the legendary interpreters of his music. In 1943, a dashing Leonard Bernstein made his debut when he stepped onto the Carnegie Hall podium—as a last-minute substitute for an ailing Walter—to conduct the New York Philharmonic. It was one of the most famous debuts in music history, and while Bernstein didn’t conduct Mahler on that program, he went on to lead a revival of interest in the master’s music that has not lost momentum after nearly half a century.

Gustav Mahler (left) walking with Bruno Walter (right).  

The spirits of Mahler and Bernstein are near as we look forward to an April 16 concert that features Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Music Director Marin Alsop conducting a new work by Kevin Puts—co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall as part of its 125 Commissions Project—and Mahler’s Symphony No. 5. Alsop’s connection to Bernstein runs deep. She studied with him at Tanglewood and recently led the Weill Music Institute’s critically acclaimed production of West Side Story, for which Bernstein wrote the music. She has said of her mentor, “Bernstein taught me much more than a craft. He showed me—and the world—the enormous power of music and how it is to share it with as much of humanity as possible.”

Leonard Bernstein and Marin Alsop. Photo by Walter Scott.  

There will be another composer-mentor-conductor family tree branching out when Mariss Jansons leads the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in a performance of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7, “Leningrad,” on April 20. The Shostakovich-Leningrad connection begins with Jansons’s father, an assistant to conductor Yevgeny Mravinsky. One of the colossal figures of Russian music, Mravinsky led the Leningrad Philharmonic (now the St. Petersburg Philharmonic) for half a century. He was a favorite of Shostakovich and premiered six of his symphonies, including the Eighth (dedicated to Mravinsky in 1943). Latvia-born Jansons entered the Leningrad Conservatory in 1957, graduated with honors, won the 1971 International von Karajan Foundation Competition, and—two years later—was named associate conductor of the Leningrad Philharmonic, working under Mravinsky. His Shostakovich connection runs deep.

Yevgeny Mravinsky (left) and Dmitri Shostakovich (right).  

Marin Alsop
Saturday, April 16 at 8 PM
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

The New York Times has called Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Music Director Marin Alsop “a conductor with a vision of what an American orchestra could be in the 21st century.” This concert features a new work by Pulitzer Prize–winning composer Kevin Puts, co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall, and Mahler’s emotional Symphony No. 5. Mahler cast his Fifth Symphony in five movements, opening with the Funeral March and bringing down the house with a jubilant finale. Just before that finale is the Adagietto, a breathlessly beautiful love letter for strings and harp to his wife, Alma, that may be the composer’s most famous work.

Mariss Jansons
Mariss Jansons
Wednesday, April 20 at 8 PM
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra

Shostakovich’s “Leningrad” Symphony is a stirring tribute to his native city and its citizens who endured a devastating 900-day siege during World War II. Although Shostakovich never assigned a program to his massively scored symphony, it certainly conjures visions of war, approaching invaders, hope, and victory with a cinematic sensibility. Mariss Jansons, a protégé of Yevgeny Mravinsky (Shostakovich’s favorite conductor) conducts the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in one of the most riveting and deeply moving works of the 20th century.

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