Mahler's Symphony No. 8

Leonard Bernstein Centennial

Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
Marin Alsop, conductor
Milwaukee Symphony Chorus
Chicago Children’s Choir
Angela Meade, soprano
Leah Crocetto, soprano
Jeanine De Bique, soprano
Michelle DeYoung, mezzo-soprano
Kelley O’Connor, mezzo-soprano
Clay Hilley, tenor
Paulo Szot, baritone
Ryan Speedo Green, bass

Friday, July 26, 2019
4:30 PM
Donor Gates Open
5:00 PM
Public Gates Open
8:00 PM
Concert Starts

Tickets: $105 / $35
Lawn: $15


Mahler:   Symphony No. 8 (“Symphony of a Thousand”)

About The Artist

Paulo Szot

Program Notes

  • The nickname “Symphony of a Thousand” has followed Gustav Mahler’s Eighth Symphony since before its first performance. The premiere was due to mark the opening of a new concert hall in Munich, where the promoters capitalized on the combination of its large stage and the already larger-than-average number of musicians needed for the work by assembling a combined chorus of about 850 child and adult singers to perform with the 150-some instrumentalists.
  • Having spent significant time in the United States as the director of the Metropolitan Opera and New York Philharmonic in the two years before the premiere of his Eighth Symphony in 1910, Gustav Mahler was well familiar with the implications of calling the “Symphony of a Thousand” nickname foisted upon his music a “Barnum and Bailey” tactic. Nevertheless, that performance earned Mahler the best reviews of his career (and reportedly a very lengthy standing ovation at its conclusion).
  • Among the audience for the premiere of Gustav Mahler’s Eighth Symphony was the teenaged Leopold Stokowski, who would become music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra two years later. He earned permission to lead the American premiere of the work in 1916, despite the orchestra leaders fearing it would be unprofitable—in the end, all six performances were standing-room-only (and ticket scalpers reaped the rewards of the popularity). That event made both Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra household names internationally, a status extended many times, including through the soundtrack of Disney’s Fantasia in 1940.


  • Despite its enthusiastic reception, Gustav Mahler’s Eighth Symphony—like most of his works—remained obscure until Leonard Bernstein elevated Mahler to be a vital part of the classical experience in the US, beginning the first complete recordings of Mahler’s symphonies and initiating a yearlong festival of his works with the New York Philharmonic in 1960, the composer’s centennial.
  • Leonard Bernstein led the first part of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony in 1962 to underscore the occasion of the Lincoln Center opening. A live recording of this performance was followed four years later by a studio recording with the London Symphony Orchestra that completed his set with the New York Philharmonic. This disc originated the practice of recording the organ part offsite—a tradition upheld by Sir Georg Solti in his landmark 1971 recording with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and choruses from Mahler’s homeland. Bernstein had not yet recorded the Eighth for a second cycle with the Vienna Philharmonic at the time of his death, so an earlier live taping was used to complete the set.
  • Gustav Mahler’s diverse spiritual beliefs were reinforced when, after realizing that the hymnal text he was working with for the first part of the Eighth Symphony was incomplete, the music he had already composed fit perfectly with the complete text that he later received.
  • Ever since the “Ode to Joy” punctuated Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, composers such as Hector Berlioz and Franz Liszt further experimented with adding a chorus as another prominent “instrument” within the orchestra, but Gustav Mahler became the first to feature a chorus throughout a symphony with his Eighth.
  • Marin Alsop sees similarities between Gustav Mahler’s Eighth Symphony and Leonard Bernstein’s Mass, which she reprised at Ravinia last week. She told Ravinia magazine, “Common to both pieces is a desire to answer the big existential question: ‘Why are we here?’ Doing the works roughly a week apart hopefully will enable us to shed light on these pieces listeners perhaps have not considered before.” (Coincidentally, Mahler once referred to his Eighth Symphony as his Mass, though in the sense of the general liturgical form, not in reference to any specific work.)
  • Sopranos Angela Meade, Leah Crocetto, and Jeanine De Bique and tenor Clay Hilley are all making their Chicago Symphony Orchestra debuts, whereas mezzos Michelle DeYoung and Kelly O’Connor, baritone Paulo Szot, and bass Ryan Speedo Green are all returning favorites of recent Ravinia seasons (in the case of Paulo Szot, just last summer and last week as the Celebrant in Leonard Bernstein’s Mass).

Concert Information

Performance shown on lawn video screen

English supertitles projected on Pavilion and lawn video screens

Note: Clay Hilley will be tonight’s tenor soloist as Joseph Kaiser is attending to a medical situation. Ravinia thanks Mr. Hilley for joining us and sends best wishes to Mr. Kaiser.

Featured Sponsor: