School of Music

Portland Youth Symphony celebrates its 70th year with Mahler’s 3rd, and Met Opera guest

The Student Philharmonic Orchestra of 1943

Gustav Mahler's “Third Symphony” is the Mt. Everest of the orchestral genre, a monumental work for any musical community to present. Thus it is more striking that this work will be performed November 16 by the members of the Portland Youth Symphony Orchestra, and many guests – all under the direction of conductor Robert Lehmann – to mark the 70th anniversary of this august musical organization – one of the oldest in the country …. Yes, they really are that good!

MAHLER 3 performed on Friday, November 16

Portland Youth Symphony Orchestra of 2003The concert will be held at 7:30 p.m. Friday, November 16 in Merrill Auditorium of Portland City Hall, Myrtle Street, Portland. There will be a $12 suggested donation accepted at the door with open general seating. For information call the USM Music Box Office at 780-5555.

The event is sponsored by Macy’s; Macdonald Page & Co LLC; and Murray, Plumb and Murray.

Teresa Herold '02The featured soloist is USM music alumna and Metropolitan Opera mezzo-soprano Teresa Herold. Conductor Lehmann (of Scarborough) has assembled over 150 performers, ages 14 to 80. They include the Portland Youth Symphony Orchestra with 60 high school members; the Southern Maine Symphony Orchestra comprised of 36 USM students, 31 community members and five USM music faculty; the Women of the USM Chorale; and the Southern Maine Children’s Choir.

Having a youth orchestra reach a 70th birthday is a great civic achievement for any city. It is proof of the community's interest and advocacy for the arts. Yet this venerable age could never have been reached without the support and dedication of musical organizations, area musicians and educators, and corporate sponsors who respond to the need of talented young musicians to have the opportunity to make music and hone their skills at a higher level. 

Annual Fall Concert on Thursday, November 17

As if this enormous work wasn’t enough …  the day before the Mahler performance the Portland Youth Symphony Orchestra will perform Thursday, November 15, as part of the regular Youth Ensemble Fall Instrumental Concert at 7 p.m. at Merrill Auditorium, sponsored by Macy’s.

The concert will include the Portland Youth Symphony Orchestra conducted by Robert Lehmann, the Portland Wind Ensemble conducted by Peter Martin, the Portland Young People’s String Consort conducted by Deborah Dabczynski, and the Portland Youth Junior Orchestra conducted by Ferdinand Liva. There is a $6/$3 suggested donation at the door with open seating.

History of the PYSO

The Student Philharmonic Orchestra of 1943On March 22, 1942, the first rehearsal of the 65-member Student Philharmonic Orchestra, was held at the Chestnut Street Church. That orchestra was created, and conducted for 32 years, by Clinton W. Graffam Jr., a Portland Symphony Orchestra oboist, and whose father was one of the PSO’s founders.

The first concert by the Student Philharmonic was given on the following May 19 at Portland City Hall Auditorium before an audience of 1,200. The concert was sponsored as a benefit for the War Service Department by the Maine Federation of Music Clubs. In place of an admission fee, concert-goers donated sheet music and phonograph records, which were to be distributed to members of the Armed Forces throughout Maine.

The orchestra eventually became known as the Junior Symphony, then the Portland Symphony Youth Orchestra -- a part of the PSO’s educational and community outreach. In 1979-80 two more youth groups were added to the program -- The Portland Youth Wind Ensemble and Portland Young People’s String Consort. In 1996-97 all three youth ensembles came under the administration of the School of Music of the University of Southern Maine (then called the Music Department). The USM Youth Ensembles continue to flourish, now including two additional groups, the intermediate-level Portland Youth Junior Orchestra, and the Southern Maine Children’s Choir.

From Robert Lehmann’s Program Notes on the Third Symphony: Mahler's Ode to Nature. 

Mahler once stated that a symphony ought to encompass the whole world and should represent and give voice to nature, mankind and spirituality. This quest led Mahler to compose a work of gigantic proportion both in terms of length, almost 100 minutes, and instrumental and vocal forces. In order to realize his vision, the Third Symphony employs an orchestra that calls for: 4 flutes, all doubling on piccolos, 4 oboes, English horn, 3 clarinets, 2 E-flat clarinets, 1 Bass clarinet, 4 bassoons and a contrabassoon, 8 French horns, 5 trumpets, 1 'Post'-horn, 4 trombones, tuba, two harps, double timpani, percussion and a proportionally larger string section. Additionally, women’s and children’s choruses are used in the fifth movement, and an alto soloist appears in the fourth and fifth movements. This symphony may well have been the loudest thing that an audience of that day could expect to hear anywhere in the world. In fact, upon visiting Niagara Falls during his brief tenure as Music Director of the MET, Mahler was heard to remark "Finally, a true fortissimo!" 

Growing up as a lower middle-class, German-speaking minority Jew in Bohemia (present day Czech Republic), Mahler constantly faced prejudice and economic hardships. His astonishing musical ability was recognized by local musicians and although not fully understood or appreciated, was encouraged by his working-class father. Economic and social issues were not the only problems in the Mahler household, of his 12 siblings, only six survived infancy. Mahler used to joke that the coffee table in the family's living room was really a coffin. Sarcasm, irony and death figure prominently in Mahler's musical language, alongside heartbreakingly beautiful music and simple Austrian folk tunes.

One of the great conductors of the 19th and early 20th centuries, Mahler rose through the ranks of minor-league opera houses to reach the pinnacle of music directorships, that of Generalmusikdirector of the Vienna State Opera. Naturally such a position does not come without significant political and social skirmishes, most caused by the strong anti-Semitic atmosphere in the upper echelons of Viennese bureaucracy and society. Mahler's tenure in Vienna was also fraught with daily struggles due to his extremely high and exacting standards and uncompromising personality. However, there is no doubt that under his leadership, the company hit a legendary high-water mark.  

His 'day job' left Mahler with very little time to devote to composing. He eagerly anticipated his summers 'off' where he would retreat to the idyllic settings of Steinbach on the Attersee in the mountains near Salzburg. Here, in a tiny little hut with barely enough room for a piano and a bench, Mahler conceived some of the most iconic symphonic works ever written. The structure of the third symphony itself is unusual in that it evolved 'naturally' without a pre-determined plan or structure. Even before he started putting notes on the page, Mahler wrote out a title and scenes for his new work, which he tweaked and re-wrote as the work began to take shape. Eventually he settled on:

A Mid-summer Day's Dream (not after Shakespeare!)

First part:

1. Summer marches in. Pan awakes. (Procession of Bacchus)

Second Part:

2. What the flowers in the meadow tell me

3. What the forest creatures tell me

4. What Man tells me

5. What the morning bells/Angels tell me

6. What love/God tells me 

 

Mahler completed the second 'part' of the symphony first, and had the work performed piecemeal over the next few years. Nikisch conducted the second movement, presented as 'Blumenstuck' or 'flower piece' with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1896. Weingartner and the Berlin Royal Orchestra presented the second, third and sixth movements in 1897, and Mahler himself conducted the first complete performance in 1902 in Krefeld at the Festival of the Allgemeiner Deutscher Musikverein. It should be noted that at this premiere, Mahler removed all programmatic and descriptive titles from the program and only sanctioned the printing of generic tempo indications.

Mahler seems to have been caught in a no-man's land between the ideals of absolute and programmatic music. However he eventually felt that, "no music is worth anything if first you have to tell the listener what experience lies behind it and what [they] are supposed to experience in it. And so ... to hell with the program! You just have to bring your ears and hear along and ... willingly surrender to the rhapsodist. Some residue of mystery remains, even for the creator." 

Much of the source material for the symphony came from songs (Ablosung im Sommer, Das himmlische Leben) and other sketches made as early as 1890, as well as (Es sungen drei Engel) that came from the famous collection of folk poetry found in Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth's Magic Horn). The first movement began to take shape in late 1895 based upon two independent songs, 'Son of the Persecuted Man in the Tower', and 'Where the Lovely Trumpets Sound'. By the following summer it was apparent that "Summer marches in" and "Pan Awakening" were coalescing into one very large movement that was already clocking in at over 30 minutes. It is at this time that Mahler jettisoned a projected 7th movement (Life in Heaven) and used it as the closing movement for the fourth symphony instead and re-cast the slow 6th movement as the finale for symphony's amazing journey. 

The four inner movements (2-5) are bookend-ed by this gargantuan 45 minute curtain raiser and a 30 minute final 'thought'. Whereas the first and last movements are quite esoteric, the inner movements contain the most compelling humanistic endeavors; love of nature in both flora (second) and fauna (third), as well as humanity (fourth) and spirituality (fifth). 

 

About the Performers:

 

The November 16th 70th Anniversary Concert includes members of the

Portland Youth Symphony Orchestra

Southern Maine Symphony Orchestra

Women of the USM Chorale

Southern Maine Children’s Choir


 

November 15th Annual Fall Concert includes the instrumental groups:

Portland Youth Symphony Orchestra

Portland Youth Wind Ensemble

Portland Youth Junior Orchestra, and

Portland Young People’s String Consort

 

Members of the press, and those needing special accommodations to participate fully in this program, contact Lori Arsenault, (207) 780-5142, larsenault@usm.maine.edu. Hearing impaired: call USM's telex / TDD number (207) 780-5646

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