Mahler’s Seventh Symphony is a fascinating symphonic odyssey, from its brilliant opening through introspective “night music” movements to the thrillingly virtuosic finale. This glorious work is truly transcendent, especially with the superb musicians of the Philharmonic. (Listen closely for the distinctive colors of some unusual instruments, including cowbells, mandolin, and guitar.)
MAHLER: SYMPHONY NO. 7
Symphony No. 7, “Song of the Night” (1904-1905)
GUSTAV MAHLER (1860-1911)
The Seventh Symphony was a product of the happiest years Gustav Mahler knew. His career as director of the Vienna Opera was at its apex (in 1904 and 1905, he introduced his highly regarded version of Fidelio, conducted an important production of Don Giovanni with decor by Alfred Roller, and prepared for revivals of Così fan tutte and The Abduction from the Seraglio). His life with Alma was satisfying, his family had grown to include two healthy daughters, and his music was gaining recognition. Just as the Sixth Symphony was being completed in September 1904, he quickly wrote the two Andantes that were to become the “night music” movements of the Symphony No. 7. His hectic performance and administrative schedule in Vienna during the winter months precluded further work on the new piece. When he returned to his lakeside summer home the following May, however, “Not a note would come,” he recalled. “I plagued myself for two weeks until I sank into gloom.... then I tore off to the Dolomites. There I was led the same dance, and at last gave up and returned home.... I got into the boat to be rowed across. At the first stroke, the theme (or rather the rhythm and character) of the introduction to the first movement came into my head—and in four weeks, the first, third and fifth movements were done.” The Symphony was completed in short score before Mahler returned to Vienna in the autumn and finished early in 1906. It was to be the last work of that halcyon period in Mahler’s life.
Between the completion of the Seventh Symphony in 1906 and its premiere in Prague under the composer’s direction on September 19, 1908, Mahler’s life was turned upside-down. In 1907, three separate shocks befell him that crushed his happiness and hastened his early death at the age of fifty: in March, against the continuing background of budgetary distress, hide-bound conservatism, and muted but pervasive anti-Semitism, Mahler began to feel that his tenure at the Court Opera had been a failure, and resigned; three months later, Dr. Friedrich Kovacs of Vienna diagnosed a serious heart condition, and advised Mahler that he would have to cease all strenuous activity and limit his professional responsibilities if the disease were not to prove rapidly fatal; and in July, the composer’s beloved four-year-old daughter, Maria, died of scarlet fever and diphtheria. The man who conducted the premiere of the Seventh Symphony was much changed from the man who composed it. Alma recorded that he worked incessantly on revising the score’s orchestration during the long series of rehearsals, and that his stamina and self-confidence seemed particularly taxed by preparations for the performance. Though the Prague orchestra won Mahler’s approval, and the event generated considerable excitement, Alma reported that the piece had only a “succès d’estime... The Seventh was scarcely understood by the public.” The work was heard again during Mahler’s lifetime in Hamburg, Munich, Amsterdam and Vienna, but it failed to achieve wide acceptance, and came early in its history to be regarded as something of a step-child among the symphonies; it was not heard in the United States until Frederick Stock conducted it in Chicago in 1921.
The first movement, amply endowed with such forwardlooking harmonic devices as superimposed fourths and incipient polytonality, is a vast sonata design prefaced by a stern introduction (led by the tenor tuba) containing motivic germs from which several later themes grow. An embryonic version of the main theme is given by unison trombones, only to be interrupted by another somber proclamation from the tenor tuba. The horns then take over the trombones’ theme to launch the main body of the movement. A sentimental melody, very Viennese in manner, is given by the violins to provide contrast. The center of the movement is occupied by development of motives from the introduction and main theme. Solos in the bass and tenor trombones and the tenor tuba lead to the recapitulation.
The Symphony’s three central movements (Night Music I—Scherzo—Night Music II) are grouped together within the massive bulwark of the opening movement and the Rondo-Finale. The Nachtmusik I, in an unsettled C major-minor tonality, is one of Mahler’s most fantastic inspirations. Burnett James found here “a sense of tattered ghostly armies marching by night, of bugle calls and responses as well as those of birds and beasts; not so much barbarous armies that clash by night, as of remnants of those which have clashed.” Bright dawn does not immediately follow this musical night, however, since the ensuing Scherzo is among the most haunted, spectral and disquieting movements in the symphonic literature. “A spook-like, nocturnal piece,” Mahler’s friend and protégé Bruno Walter called it; Ronald Kinloch Anderson allowed that if the surrounding movements are “night” music, this Scherzo might well be “nightmare” music. “A glimpse of darkness, of the skull beneath the skin with its mocking grimace, of the essential horror,” wrote James. This devil’s waltz of a movement is followed by the delicate Nachtmusik II, whose simplicity, quietude and gentle guitar and mandolin sounds serve to quell the apprehension of the Scherzo and to prepare for the sunburst of the Symphony’s close.
The Rondo-Finale has, with justification, been criticized for a lack of coherence and an uninhibited boisterousness sometimes bordering on the banal. In the context of the Seventh Symphony, however, the finale is an appropriate emotional and stylistic closure to the expressive and formal progression circumscribed by the earlier movements, achieving a mood that Paul Stefan said is “on top of a mountain.”
Alan Gilbert is the music director for the New York Philharmonic.
New York Philharmonic Music Director Alan Gilbert began his tenure in September 2009. He simultaneously maintains a major international presence, making guest appearances with orchestras including the Berlin Philharmonic, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Royal Concertgebouw, London Symphony, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Boston Symphony, Munich Philharmonic, Dresden Staatskapelle, and Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France. Gilbert is Conductor Laureate of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic and former Principal Guest Conductor of the NDR Symphony Orchestra Hamburg. He has led productions for the Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Zurich Opera, Royal Swedish Opera, and Santa Fe Opera, where he served as the first appointed Music Director.
In seven years at the New York Philharmonic, Gilbert has succeeded in transforming the 175-year-old institution into a leader on the cultural landscape. He has led staged productions of Ligeti's Le Grand Macabre, Janácek's Cunning Little Vixen, Stravinsky's Petrushka, and Honegger's Joan of Arc at the Stake to great acclaim, and encouraged the development of two series devoted to contemporary music: CONTACT!, introduced in 2009, and the NY PHIL BIENNIAL, an exploration of today's music by a wide range of contemporary and modern composers, which was inaugurated in 2014 and returned in 2016.
Gilbert is Director of Conducting and Orchestral Studies and holds the William Schuman Chair in Musical Studies at the Juilliard School. He made his Metropolitan Opera debut in 2008 conducting John Adams's Doctor Atomic, the DVD of which received a Grammy Award. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 2014, honored with the Foreign Policy Association Medal and named an Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government in 2015, and nominated for Emmy Awards for Outstanding Music Direction of two New York Philharmonic productions: Sweeney Todd and a 100th-birthday gala tribute to Frank Sinatra, broadcast on PBS's Live from Lincoln Center in 2015 and 2016, respectively.
Photo: David Finlayson
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Where are the orchestra concert performances held?
Bravo! Vail orchestral concerts take place at Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater (GRFA) located at 530 S. Frontage Rd E Vail, CO 81657
What time do performances begin?
Concerts start promptly at 6:00PM (except for the movie screening which starts at 7:30PM). The GRFA lobby opens 90 minutes prior and gates open 60 minutes prior to performances. Give yourself plenty of time to park and get into the venue. Latecomers will be escorted by ushers at an appropriate interval.
Where do I park?
FREE concert parking is available at the Vail Parking Structure (241 South Frontage Road East, Vail) and the Lionshead Parking Structure (395 South Frontage Road West, Vail). A Town of Vail Special Event express bus provides continuous service from both parking structures to the GRFA before and after concerts. Limited $10 parking is available at Ford Park by the Tennis Center (500 South Frontage Rd). Additional $10 parking is available at the Vail Athletic/Soccer Field lot.
WALKING DIRECTIONS FROM THE VAIL VILLAGE PARKING STRUCTURE:
Via Gore Creek Trail: 15-minute scenic walk
1. Exit the parking garage by following the Pedestrian Exit signs towards “Vail Village” / “Golden Peak”
2. Turn left out of the parking garage onto East Meadow Drive and head east
3. At the end of the road turn right on Vail Valley Drive and cross the road
4. Turn left on the walking path before the bridge, following the street signs towards "Ford Park"
5. Continuing east, follow the walking path along Gore Creek until reaching the GRFA
Via Frontage Road: 15-minute walk
1. From the top level of the parking garage, exit onto the South Frontage Road
2. Turn right and follow the sidewalk east along the south side of the frontage road
3. Cross East Meadow Drive and continue east along the sidewalk
4. Turn right after passing The Wren at Vail on the right
5. Continue down the path down to the GRFA
How long do concerts last?
Concerts generally last 2 hours including intermission. Please call the box office 877.812.5700 for exact running times.
How do I buy tickets?
Tickets, passes, and gift certificates may be ordered in the following ways:
1. Online: bravovail.org
2. By phone: 877.812.5700
3. In person: Bravo! Vail 2271 N Frontage Rd W Suite C, Vail, CO 81657
Bravo! Vail accepts American Express, Visa, MasterCard, and Discover credit cards, cash, and checks. There is a $2 fee per ticket. Tickets are delivered by mail or email,or may be picked up at the Box Office.
What are the Box Office hours?
Bravo! Vail Box Office hours are Monday-Friday from 9AM to 4PM. During the Festival, hours include Saturday & Sunday from 10AM to 4PM. The Bravo! Vail Box Office can be reached at 877.812.5700.
The Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater box office is open from 11AM until concert start time (5PM on days with no concerts) during the Festival. Tickets for upcoming performances may be purchased on-site at the GRFA before concerts and during intermission.
Where is the Will Call window?
Will Call tickets may be picked up at the Box Office located to the right of the main GRFA entrance lobby. The Box Office is open 11AM to concert start time during the Festival.
Does Bravo! Vail offer group pricing?
Discounts for groups of 15 or more are available for select concerts. Please call 970.827.4316 for more information.
What if I buy tickets and cannot attend?
Tickets are non-refundable. You may exchange your tickets ($7 fee per ticket) by calling the Box Office at 877.812.5700 up to 2 days before the concert. You may release your tickets or leave them for a friend at Will Call by calling the Box Office.
What if I misplace or forget to bring my tickets?
There is no charge to reprint tickets. Please call 877.812.5700 before 3PM on the day of the performance or allow extra time to request new tickets at the Will Call window.
Where are seating options for people with disabilities?
Per the American Disability Act (ADA), the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater is accessible to individuals with disabilities. ADA seating is available in Section 1 Row L and Section 4 Row O in all reserved seating zones and prices (Premium Aisle, Premium, Reserved, and Saver). A limited number of ADA General Admission Lawn seats are available for sale behind Section 2. You must have a designated ADA lawn seat ticket to sit in this area. By purchasing an ADA seat, you are stating that you require an ADA seat. If purchased fraudulently, you may be subject to relocation. If you need assistance purchasing ADA seating, please call the Box Office at 877.812.5700.
What if it rains?
Concerts take place rain or shine. The GRFA is an open-air venue. Refunds are not given due to weather unless a concert is canceled in its entirety with no performance rescheduled.
What should I wear?
There is no dress code for concerts. Please be prepared for rain and cooler temperatures.
What should I bring to the concert?
If you will be on the lawn, a blanket, sunglasses, and a hat are recommended. If rain is predicted, please bring appropriate rain gear. Food, commercially sealed non-alcoholic beverages, low-profile lawn chairs, and umbrellas are permitted at concerts. All backpacks, bags, purses, picnic baskets, and coolers will be checked upon entry.
The following articles are not allowed at the venue: cameras, audio/video recording devices, standard-height lawn chairs, baby strollers, alcoholic beverages, firearms, pets, smoking, skateboards, bicycles, scooters, and skates.
What food and beverages are available for purchase at the GRFA?
Concessions are offered for purchase inside the venue. Menu items include snacks, burgers, sandwiches, and salads. A full bar is also available. All major credit cards and cash are accepted for payment. If you have a pavilion seat, please eat prior to the concert or at intermission.
Are lawn chairs available to rent?
Low-profile lawn chairs are available at the GRFA to rent for $10. You may also rent a lawn chair with your lawn ticket purchase online or by calling the Bravo! Vail Box Office at 877.812.5700. To reserve a lawn chair in advance, please email email@example.com
What are some general rules of concert etiquette?
Please allow time for parking and seating. Concert attendees must silence all mobile devices prior to performances to not disrupt musicians and other patrons. Please limit conversations and other noisy activities during the performance. In the pavilion seating, we recommend eating prior to the concert or at intermission. Parental supervision is required for all children attending Bravo! Vail concerts.
What else should I know?
Vail’s high elevation requires adequate hydration and sun protection. Visitors from lower elevations may experience altitude sickness.
What if I lose something at the concert?
Check with the GRFA box office for lost items at intermission or call 970.748.8497.
What if I still have questions?
Please contact the Box Office at 877.812.5700 Mon–Fri 9AM–4PM (and Sat–Sun 10AM-4PM during the Festival).