On Saturday, Nov. 20, the University of North Carolina (UNCSA)’s School of Music will present the UNCSA Symphony Orchestra performing Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 in the Stevens Center, located at 405 W. Fourth St. in Winston-Salem. Tickets are $20 (general admission) and $15 (students with valid ID) and are available either by calling the box office at 336-721-1945 or by visiting www.uncsa.edu/performances. Due to local mandates, audience members will be required to wear face masks during the presentation.
UNCSA Artist-in-Residence Thomas Wilkins, the principal conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, will conduct the UNCSA Symphony Orchestra as it performs one of Mahler’s most acclaimed works.
“We are thrilled to offer our student artists the opportunity to perform an epic work like Mahler’s Fifth Symphony under the leadership of Maestro Thomas Wilkins,” said Saxton Rose, UNCSA dean of music. “This is sure to be an experience they will treasure, and our audience will not soon forget.”
Almost 100 student musicians have rehearsed the piece at the Stevens Center, where the stage allows for social distancing. The full rehearsals have been supplemented by study sessions conducted on Zoom, as well as faculty-led sectionals on campus. The students playing strings, harp, and percussion are masked, while those playing wind and brass are permitted to doff their masks while performing.
According to Rose, “we are following protocols used by professional orchestras to limit the spread of COVID-19 (and) our student artists are very happy for the opportunity to perform live again.”
UNCSA second-year graduate student Johammee Romero will perform the iconic trumpet fanfare that opens the symphony. He explained that Mahler’s Fifth Symphony requires the trumpet to express all of its aspects and be sensitive to all the ranges of emotion inherent in the piece. “It’s an incredible piece that exemplifies the genius, complexity, and even superstitious characteristics of Mahler’s persona,” he said. “The ability of the trumpet to be sensitive is sometimes overlooked, and showing it is one of the most difficult challenges for a musician.”
Although the themes expressed in Mahler’s Fifth Symphony are death and rebirth, it was written during Mahler’s courtship with bride-to-be Alma Maria Schindler and also inspired by his own imagination.
“The inspiration for the funeral march came from a dream of his own death,” revealed Romero. “And from that dream, he created the opening fanfare but, oddly, it had already appeared in his Fourth Symphony as another trumpet call. It was written 100 years after Beethoven’s Fifth (Symphony), and it inverts the opening of that symphony. Mahler takes the melody and transforms and transcends it so that it drives the whole symphony. For the post-Romantic era, it brings together everything that you could possibly imagine at that time.”
On Sunday, Nov. 21, the Reynolda Quartet will perform “Farewells and Swan Songs” in Winston Hall, located on the main campus of UNCSA (University of North Carolina School of the Arts), 1533 S. Main St., Winston-Salem. The concert is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 (general admission) and $20 (students) and are available by calling 336-721-1945 or visiting www.uncsa.edu/performances. UNCSA and Wake Forest students, faculty, and staff enjoy free admission with advance registration.
Watson Hall will be open to full capacity, and in accordance with local mandates, audience members must wear face masks. The event will also be live-streamed (at no charge) as part of the ongoing “Live from Watson Hall” series, and to register simply visit the same link above.
The quartet includes renowned musicians Ida Bieler and Janet Orenstein (violins), Ulrich Eichenauer (viola), and Brooks Whitehouse (cello), with special guest North Carolina Symphony principal cellist Bonnie Thron for Schubert’s String Quintet in C major, and Dvorak’s String Quartet in D minor will also be included in this program.
The title “Farewells and Swan Songs” is a reference to Greek mythology, which posits the theory that the swan sings a single song of exquisite beauty just before its death. Ironically, Franz Schubert completed his C major string quartet in the final weeks of his life (he died in 1828 at age 31), but it was not performed publicly until 1850.
Nevertheless, according to Whitehouse, the piece isn’t morose but triumphant, filled with energy and hope. “It is remarkable to me that Schubert cared so much about this piece that he gave so much of himself when he really was not well. It is heavenly, and when you are playing it or listening to it, you just want it to go on forever.”
The official UNCSA website is https://www.uncsa.edu.