By the time Gustav Mahler was writing and conducting music, Wolgang Amadeus Mozart was already a legend — so much so that, according to The New York Times, Mahler was heard repeating Mozart’s name on his deathbed.
Works of the two master composers will be paired for the final symphonic showcase of the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra on Saturday at the Gaillard Center. Conductor Steven Sloane, who was the festival’s music director from 1996-2000 and has since made guest appearances, said Mozart and Mahler go well together.
“You’re talking about two composers that span centuries, but are really considered the true geniuses of their time,” Sloane said.
Joseph Downing, chairman of the department of music composition, theory and history at Syracuse University, said Mahler’s affection for Mozart’s music was not that uncommon.
“He, like everyone else in his time, would have had a great appreciation for, and understanding of, Mozart,” Downing said.
Pedja Muzijevic, who will perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 15 in B-flat Major, had a hand in choosing the piece.
“Mozart’s all about gestures,” Muzijevic said. He compared performing the concerto to giving a speech, one which requires careful deliberation on phrasing. “If you lead your thoughts and your sentences well, you’re not going to run out of breath.”
Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, “The Titan,” is the second piece to be performed, and it has special meaning for Sloane. It was the first work he conducted at the Spoleto Festival in 1994.
“For me, it’s really full circle,” he said, noting the influence of the annual Charleston arts extravaganza. “The festival has an amazing stamp on the artistic landscape of the United States.”
Muzijevic has been a part of the chamber music series for 10 years.
“It’s a very fulfilling experience, even though the schedule is brutal,” he said. That schedule involves 33 concerts and 11 different programs over the course of 17 days, plus other performances such as this one.
Sloane said the music-making process at the festival can be magical.
“Somehow, in this nonverbal way, we take what’s written on a page of paper and we make it a one-time experience,” he said.
For Muzijevic and the festival orchestra, the Mozart and Mahler concert is a climactic conclusion to an intense festival run. It’s a chance for the young musicians of the orchestra — who play not only in their own programs but for the operas, Music in Time series and more — to take center stage.
Joe Allen is a Goldring Arts Journalist at Syracuse University.