Mahler’s Blumine and Lieder eines fahrenden Geselle Review – A Unique, Memorable Performance

I am typically in Chicagoland unless it is January and February when I am located in the San Franciso area.  I have intended to see the San Francisco Symphony in person and to see the Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall for many years, but it wasn’t until January 15, 2017 that I finally did have that opportunity.  


Sasha Cooke, with dancers at her side, performs with the San Francisco Symphony and Chorus (Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Symphony)

Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall is part of San Francisco’s performing arts complex.  As first time visitors to the hall, my husband and I found it visually striking and acoustically excellent.


From the balcony at Davies Hall, Photo: B. Keer

It also boasts an impressive gift shop and an exquisite series of staircases.  And there are balconies, which reveal gorgeous views of San Francisco spread below. I have had the pleasure of hearing the San Francisco Symphony conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas in Chicago and on the radio but this was the first time I have seen the orchestra under his leadership live in San Francisco.


Brian Mulligan, Sasha Cooke, Joélle Harvey, Michael König, and dancers (Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Symphony)

The program featured early works of Gustav Mahler, works he wrote in his teens that were reworked and included in later works.  The “Inside Music Talk” offered by Laura Stanfield Prichard an hour before performance time was probably the best of these kinds of talks I have heard, informative and fascinating. Her description of Mahler’s early life, his family, the sounds he heard, the depth of emotion in his life contributed to the music and lyrics he wrote, the conducting he did and his travels. 



oélle Harvey, Michael König, and dancers (Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Symphony)

“Much like the production of Missa solemnis in 2015, my goal with Das klagende Lied is to take listeners through the beautiful intricacies of this work, using video, lighting, and other elements to peel back the layers of music,” explains Michael Tilson Thomas. “These elements will serve to illuminate every facet of Mahler’s music, and it is my hope that the audience will walk away having had a deeper, more inspiring experience than they might have had otherwise.”   


Michael Tilson Thomas’s goal was achieved for many audience members, and it certainly was for me and my husband.  The production was remarkable and original.


Sasha Cooke (Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Symphony)

This very early work was written between 1878 and 1880, and revised by Mahler himself over the next two decades. Das klagende Lied tells the story of a forest queen, two brothers who seek to marry her, and a minstrel who finds himself involved in the complex triangle. The work comprises three sections: Waldmärchen (Forest Legend), Der Spielmann (The Minstrel), and Hochzeitsstück (Wedding Piece), and requires the combined forces of more than 225 performers, including orchestra, chorus, offstage banda, and soloists, in addition to dancers and actors in this semi-staged production. The first SFS performance of Das klagende Lied was in 1978, led by Edo de Waart. Previous SFS performances led by MTT took place in 1996 and 2001; the 1996 performances were recorded live at Davies Symphony hall and released on CD.


Joélle Harvey, Sasha Cooke, and dancers (Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Symphony)

Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT) conducted the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) and Chorus (Ragnar Bohlin, Director) in an original semi-staged production of Das klagende Lied, January 13–15 at Davies Symphony Hall. Soprano Joélle Harvey, mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, tenor Michael König, and baritone Brian Mulligan perform the cantata in a production conceived by MTT and directed by James Darrah, with projections by Adam Larsen, sets by Ellen Lenbergs, lighting by Pablo Santiago and costumes by Sarah Schessler. The program also includes Mahler’s Blumine and Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer) featuring Sasha Cooke.


Michael Tilson Thomas, Sasha Cooke, and the San Francisco Symphony (Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Symphony)

This all-Mahler program also included the composer’s Blumine, a short orchestral piece originally written as a part of his stage work Der Trompeter von Säckingen, and later temporarilyincluded as one of the movements in his Symphony No. 1. The Symphony as it has largely been performed since 1893 and as we know it today does not include the Blumine, the score for which was largely forgotten until being rediscovered and published in 1968. Blumine, which features a prominent solo by SFS Principal Trumpet Mark Inouye, was featured on the SFS Media recording Masterpieces in Miniature


Sasha Cooke with dancers, San Francisco Symphony Chorus (Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Symphony)

All of the voices in this production were outstanding, and beautiful. The chorus and orchestra were perfection. Staging for Das klagende Lied was fascinating, the projections, the carved out set for the chorus, the dancers, costuming and lighting created the perfect mood.  And, of course, as with all opera-like stories, the tragedy was tragic. The group with whom I attended loved the performance.


Brian Mulligan, Sasha Cooke, Joélle Harvey, Michael König, and dancers (Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Symphony)

Later, I heard from another friend who was there and I loved her story.

“I thought it was so well done.  Also, I took the survey course — 20th C symphony with Leonard Bernstein in 1953-54, when he taught at Brandeis, and two of the symphonies were Mahler 2 & 4. I had never heard any Mahler before that and i was “blown away”.  I thought, before that, that Mahler was a minor composer, and just as well forgotten!”


Michael Tilson Thomas conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra recently in an evening of Mahler and another recent evening that included Stravinsky and Saint-Saens.


Dick and Kristy Christensen loved "Das klagende Lied", Photo: B. Keer


Future programs include a Chinese New Year Celebration and another fantastic conductor who will be visiting from Chicago. She is Mei-Ann Chen, Musical Director of the Chicago Sinfonietta. Chicago Splash Magazine reviews  Plan to attend on February 4th.

It was a delight to attend this concert and I hope to return for other wonderful productions.

The San Francisco Symphony Schedule


Photos: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Symphony unless otherwise noted.



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