By David Templeton
The great (and currently deceased) Austrian conductor Herbert Von Karajan once said that when listening to Gustav Mahler's gloriously manic-depressive Fifth Symphony, "You forget that time has passed. [Listening to] the Fifth is a transforming experience. The fantastic finale almost forces you to hold your breath." Beginning with a mournful and overpowering funeral march, then working its way through what Mahler titled Stürmisch Bewegt, mit Größter Vehemenz (translation: "Moving stormily, with the greatest vehemence"), the symphony was written between 1901 and 1902, while Mahler was recovering from a hemorrhage that, according to his doctors, had come one hour from claiming his life. At the same time, he'd just married his great love, Alma, so you could say he was of two minds about life, both loving and fearing it.
The symphony's most famous movement is its adagietto, used as the march in John F. Kennedy's funeral. (This is ironic, since the piece was intended as a love song for Alma--this was, of course, before she cheated on him and Mahler went zonkers.) The point is, M5 is chock-full of drama, passion and head-snapping mood swings, and due to its technical difficulty, it's considered a rite of passage for any orchestra to attempt. Right on cue, here comes the American Philharmonic--Sonoma County (formerly the Cotati Philharmonic), now in its eighth season and with a brand-new name. This weekend, the all-volunteer philharmonic presents three free performances of M5, in an ambitious program titled "Ecstatic Vision: Moving from Death to Life." Conducted by music director Gabriel Sakakeeny, the program also includes a performance of Felix Mendelssohn's Capriccio Brilliant in B minor for Piano and Orchestra, the composer's first composition for piano and orchestra and features Sonoma County's 15-year-old piano prodigy, Lauren Xie.
The American Philharmonic--Sonoma County performs Friday-Sunday, Feb. 16-18 at the Spreckels performing Arts Center. Friday-Saturday at 8pm; Sunday at 3pm. 5409 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park. Free; donations encouraged. 707.793.2177.