Mahler's First Symphony

Program Listing

Saturday, September 30, 2023, 7:30 PM
SUNDAY, October 1, 2023, 2 PM
MONDAY, October 2, 2023, 7:30 PM

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Sponsored by Pat Zimmerman & Paul Dinu


David Danzmayr, Conductor
Benjamin Beilman, Violin

Gabriel Kahane

Judith (World premiere and Oregon Symphony commission)

Camille Saint-Saëns

Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso in A Minor for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 28
Benjamin Beilman

Maurice Ravel

Tzigane for Violin and Orchestra
Benjamin Beilman

Gustav Mahler

Symphony No. 1 in D Major
Langsam Schleppend
Kräftig bewegt
Feierlich und gemessen, ohne zu schleppen
Stürmisch bewegt


This performance is being recorded for broadcast on All Classical Radio.

The broadcast will air on November 17, 2023 on 89.9 fm in Portland, and worldwide at


Conducted one hour before each performance, the Concert Conversation will feature Music Director David Danzmayr or Creative Chair and Composer Gabriel Kahane and Christa Wessel, host of All Classical Radio.

Program Notes

Judith (World premiere and Oregon Symphony commission)
Introduction and Rondo capriccioso, Op. 28
Tzigane (Gypsy)
Symphony No. 1 in D Major

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Gabriel Kahane
b. 1981

Judith (World premiere and Oregon Symphony commission)

Work composed: 2023
First Oregon Symphony performance
Instrumentation: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 3 clarinets (1 doubling bass clarinet), bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 2 trombones, bass trombone, tuba, timpani, almglocken, crash cymbal, cymbals, drumstick on hardware, glockenspiel, guiro, hi hat, kick drum, marimba, resonant metal objects, snare drum, sleigh bells, tam-tam, 5 temple blocks, triangle, tubular bells, vibraphone (bowed), xylophone, harp, and strings
Estimated duration: 9 minutes

For the last fifteen years, I have split my time between singing in clubs and writing music for the concert hall. But increasingly, I’ve tried to treat my work as a single corpus, rather than distinguishing between high or low, folk or classical. So when I was asked to write a piece that would share a program with Mahler 1, I knew that I would draw on my own song materials, just as Mahler drew heavily from his Lieder eines fahrenden gesellen when composing his symphony.

In 2009, I wrote a tune called “Last Dance,” which would later appear on Where are the Arms, my second album as a singer-songwriter. Clocking in at about three-and-a-half minutes, the song is the staging ground for multiple compositional devices: the first verse is heard in a strict canon, my voice echoed by an electric guitar trailing two measures behind the melody. The second verse restates that theme, this time accompanied by a choir of brass instruments and a skittering drum machine. Then a refrain takes hold: a plaintive fourteen-bar sequence in a 7/8 meter, which repeats half a dozen times, each iteration growing more urgent and ecstatic with the addition of new musical elements – drums, guitars, harmony vocals, trombones.

The lyric, meanwhile, is a character study of a fictional older woman. We learn that she is recently widowed, as she “feels the slight impression / like crushed pillows / hold the shape of a body,” and later, that she “sits across eager men / eager to impress her; they / offer words like ‘your loss / how are you getting on, dear woman?’” In need of a reprieve, she finds her way to the “ladies lounge all decked in velvet,” where, locking herself in a stall, “she begins to sing”:

How do I deny, do I deny that
I am tired and trembling over evening
When all I want is a face to hold
And love and light and sex and cigarettes?
One final delight, final delight
In all the finer things that I had grown so used to

When all I want is your face
All I want is a last dance?

For Judith, I’ve retained aspects of the formal structure of the original song, while expanding it into a brief set of variations based on that fourteen-bar refrain. But perhaps more importantly, I’ve tried to hold onto the feeling of a character study – now through strictly instrumental music – that is psychologically complex. In these eight minutes, I hope that the listener can sense a woman who, grappling with mortality, remains wholly unwilling to surrender to death. Here is contemplation, joy, grief, libido, rage, and delight. Almost fifteen years after creating this character in the song, “Last Dance,” I’ve finally given a name to its protagonist: Judith.

© Gabriel Kahane


Camille Saint-Saëns

Introduction and Rondo capriccioso, Op. 28

Work composed: 1863
Most recent Oregon Symphony performance: Associate Conductor Mei-Ann Chen led the Oregon Symphony with Concertmaster Amy Schwartz-Moretti on November 28. 2004, at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.
Instrumentation: solo violin, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings
Estimated duration: 19 minutes

The Introduction and Rondo capriccioso, like Camille Saint-Saëns’ first and third violin concertos, was written for and dedicated to the Spanish virtuoso violinist Pablo de Sarasate. At the age of 15, Sarasate paid a visit to Saint-Saëns at home. Saint-Saëns recalled, “[He was as] fresh looking as the spring and already a celebrity, though a dawning moustache had only just begun to appear…he asked me, in the most casual way, to write a concerto for him.” This initial meeting was the beginning of a friendship that endured until Sarasate’s death in 1908, and was responsible for some of the most challenging violin music in the solo repertoire, including the Introduction and Rondo capriccioso. Saint-Saëns conceived it as a showpiece to highlight Sarasate’s matchless technique and bravura style, and it continues to challenge every player who attempts it. The overall form of the work is a shortened variation on the concerto. Inspired by Sarasate, it features a number of piquant Spanish-flavored rhythms.


Although written relatively early in his life, the Introduction and Rondo capriccioso reflects Saint-Saëns’ growing maturity as a composer. The gentle music of the Introduction seems to ask a question in the opening bars with its falling intervals, a question that is answered most definitely by the more animated Rondo capriccioso.



Maurice Ravel


Tzigane (Gypsy)


Work composed: 1924, for violin and piano. Ravel created the orchestral version two months after the premiere. Written for and dedicated to violinist Jelly d’Arányi, grand-niece of violinist Joseph Joachim.
Most recent Oregon Symphony performance: Music Director Carlos Kalmar led the Oregon Symphony with Concertmaster Jun Iwasaki on May 21-23, 2011, at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.
Instrumentation: solo violin, piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, trumpet, suspended cymbal, tambourine, triangle, celesta, harp, and strings
Estimated duration: 10 minutes


The name Jelly d’Arányi may be unfamiliar today, but in the 1920s, the Hungarian virtuoso violinist was renowned among leading composers, performers, and audiences alike. D’Arányi formed a chamber trio with cellist Pablo Casals, and toured with Béla Bartók in London and Paris performing recitals for violin and piano (d’Arányi also premiered both of Bartók’s violin sonatas, which he wrote expressly for her). English composers Vaughan Williams and Gustav Holst likewise wrote and dedicated works to d’Arányi, and she was a close friend of Edward Elgar.

In July 1922, d’Arányi met Maurice Ravel at a private musical gathering, where she performed his newly composed Sonata for Violin and Cello. Ravel was captivated. Biographer Arbie Orenstein described what happened next: “Late in the evening Ravel asked the Hungarian violinist to play some Gypsy melodies. After Mlle. d’Arányi obliged, the composer asked for one more melody, and then another. The Gypsy melodies continued until about 5 a.m., with everyone exhausted except the violinist and the composer. That evening was to mark the initial gestation of Tzigane.”

Over the next two years, as Ravel worked on other projects, including his orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, he was also immersing himself in the Hungarian Gypsy melodies d’Arányi had played for him that memorable summer night. Tzigane captures the raw, improvisational quality of the Gypsy (Roma) music of Hungary, particularly in the extended opening cadenza. Totally exposed, the solo violin executes a series of non-Western Magyar scalar passages, alternating with highly expressive interludes, as if the violin is pouring out the soul of its performer.

Ravel, mindful of d’Arányi’s skill, also included plenty of technically demanding tricks, which showcased both her virtuosity and the highly flavored music itself. Lightning-fast runs requiring incredible dexterity, harmonics, and double-stops abound throughout.


Gustav Mahler

Symphony No. 1 in D Major

Work composed: 1884-8, rev. 1893-6
Most recent Oregon Symphony performance: Music Director Carlos Kalmar led the Oregon Symphony on May 18-20, 2019, at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.
Instrumentation: 4 flutes (three doubling piccolo), 4 oboes (one doubling English horn), 4 clarinets (one doubling bass clarinet), 3 bassoons (one doubling contrabassoon), 7 horns, 5 trumpets, 4 trombones, tuba, 2 sets of timpani, bass drum, cymbals, gong, triangle, harp, and strings
Estimated duration: 56 minutes

Like many composers, Gustav Mahler was both drawn to and wary of the notion of program music. He wrestled with the idea of linking his musical ideas with non-musical inspirations, fearing that his first symphony would not be as well received as a piece of “absolute” music. At the same time, Mahler could not deny the usefulness of an underlying narrative as a unifying structure.

Mahler’s ambivalence is plain to see in the different descriptions/titles he chose for the symphony’s first four performances. At the premiere in Budapest in 1889, it was a “Symphonic Poem in Two Sections;” in Hamburg three years later, audiences heard “‘Titan,’ a Tone Poem in Symphonic Form;” the Weimar performance in 1894 presented Mahler’s renamed Symphony No. 1 in D major, “Titan.” Beginning with the fourth performance, Mahler dropped all program notes and titles, calling the music Symphony in D major.

Despite Mahler’s ambivalence about associating his music with a specific program, after the Budapest premiere left the audience confused and unsettled, he did eventually provide one to music critic Ludwig Karpath, although Mahler later regretted doing so. The Symphony’s overall narrative describes, in Mahler’s words, “a strong, heroic man, his life and sufferings, his battles and defeat at the hands of Fate.”

Mahler featured borrowed melodies from his own Songs of a Wayfarer in the first two movements and subjected each to elaborate thematic development. In the third movement, Mahler set the folk song “Brother Martin,” better known as “Frère Jacques,” in a somber minor key. In the final movement, Mahler wanders further afield, repurposing material from Liszt’s Dante Symphony and Wagner’s Parsifal. “Composing is like playing with building blocks, where new buildings are created again and again, using the same blocks,” wrote Mahler to a friend.

Audiences at the Budapest premiere were disturbed by the third movement’s ghostly reworking of Frère Jacques” in the tempo of a funeral march. Mahler indicated this music was full of “biting irony,” in which “all the coarseness, the mirth and the banality of the world are heard in the sound of a Bohemian village band, together with the hero’s terrible cries of pain.” The loutish parody of the band, complete with oom-pahs, mingles with music taken from another of Mahler’s Wayfarer songs, “Die zwei blauen Augen” (Your Two Blue Eyes), which resembles a melody from Jewish liturgy.

In the finale, according to Mahler, “the hero is exposed to the most fearful combats and to all the sorrows of the world. He and his triumphant motifs are hit on the head again and again by Destiny … Only when he has triumphed over death, and when all the glorious memories of youth have returned with themes from the first movement, does he get the upper hand, and there is a great victorious chorale!” Destiny intervenes with the Sturm und Drang of pounding brasses and timpani, but a triumphant brass choir hints at the hero’s ultimate victory, even as he continues to struggle with forces bent on his destruction. Finally, the chorale bursts forth (some listeners have discerned traces of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah in it) and concludes the symphony, as the horns stand to play their final triumphant notes.

 “It’s the most spontaneous and daringly composed of my works,” said Mahler of Symphony No. 1. “Naively, I imagined that it … would have … immediate appeal … How great was my surprise and disappointment when it turned out quite differently. In Budapest, where I first performed it, my friends avoided me afterwards … I went about like a leper and an outlaw.” Both critics and audiences reacted negatively at the premiere, with one critic deriding it as a parody of a symphony. The influential and musically conservative Viennese critic Eduard Hanslick was equally harsh: “The new symphony is the kind of music which for me is not music.” Subsequent performances, even after Mahler made substantial revisions, provoked equally strong reactions. More than ten years after its premiere, another critic described the audience’s reaction: “There were startled faces all around and some hissing was heard.”

After Mahler’s death in 1911, interest in his symphonies began to grow, particularly among other composers and conductors, including Bruno Walter and Leopold Stokowski. Beginning in the 1920s with the New York Philharmonic, Mahler’s symphonies were programmed consistently, if not regularly. In general, however, Mahler’s symphonies were not widely known to audiences in this country until after WWII. Leonard Bernstein, who identified with Mahler as a fellow composer/conductor, conducted and recorded all of Mahler’s symphonies many times over the course of his long career. Today, Mahler’s symphonies are regularly performed around the world, and Symphony No. 1 is the most frequently programmed of all Mahler’s music.


© 2023 Elizabeth Schwartz