Stefano Sarzani leads the NRO in Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 in Breckenridge |

Stefano Sarzani leads the NRO in Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 in Breckenridge

Benjamin Paul
Special to the Daily
Tasha Hoskins / National Repertory Orchestra
Tasha Hoskins / National Repertory Orchestra |

If you go

What: National Repertory Orchestra performs Mahler’s Symphony No. 5, featuring guest conductor Michael Stern

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 22

Where: Riverwalk Center, 150 W. Adams Ave., Breckenridge

Cost: Tickets are $25 to $40, or $7 for youth 18 and younger

Program: Rhapsody No. 1 for Violin and Orchestra, by Bela Bartok; Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp minor, by Gustav Mahler

More information: Call (970) 547-3100, or visit

On Wednesday, July 22, the National Repertory Orchestra and conductor Stefano Sarzani will present the music of Gustav Mahler and Bela Bartok in concert at the Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge. Due to a family emergency, Sarzani will be stepping in for scheduled guest conductor Michael Stern. Sarzani has worked with orchestras in Europe and across the United States, and he specializes in engaging concert experiences that remove barriers between performers and the audience.

“A symphony must be like the world,” Mahler famously said. “It must embrace everything.”

No statement better sums up the work of a man who has as strong a claim as any on the title of greatest symphonist since Beethoven. Each of the Austrian composer’s nine symphonies is a world unto itself, a sprawling, ambitious work that provides a narrative or philosophical statement through the way this world is revealed to the audience. Mahler’s symphonies can be heroic journeys or tragedies, requiems or spiritual manifestos.

Symphony No. 5 could best be described as a romance. This is not because love is the overarching theme of the symphony but because it is what prevails over the rest. The first two movements are stormy and chaotic, reminiscent of the heroic strife of Mahler’s earlier symphonies. Yet even in the heart of this storm, the listener can hear glimpses of the joyful music that will eventually provide redemption.

In traditional symphonic composition, the scherzo is a short, dance-inspired episode that is often much lighter than the music around it. Mahler includes a waltzing scherzo in Symphony No. 5, but instead of using it as comic relief, he boldly makes it the crucial midway point in the symphony’s philosophical journey. The chaotic figures from the opening movements make an appearance, as do more signs of the happiness to come. This is a confrontation of good and evil, set on a ballroom dance floor.

The fourth movement adagietto is the most popular piece of music that Mahler ever wrote. Mahler composed the Fifth Symphony in 1902, the year of his marriage to Alma Schindler and one of the happiest periods in an otherwise troubled life. The composer’s happiness is on full display in this movement, which was written as a love song to his new wife. Its music is written for only the warm sounds of strings and harp.

“This is first and foremost a love song,” said Doug Adams, CEO of the NRO. “It serves as an introduction to the final movement, which is filled with glory, hope and joy.”

In the finale, as in the romantic fourth movement, all signs of the symphony’s opening chaos have vanished. What is left is a celebration of the completed journey, an ode to everything that is good in the symphonic world Mahler has created. The brighter motifs from the early movements join with music from the love song to create new, triumphant themes. The symphony ends with darkness banished, happiness achieved and love celebrated.

The concert will also feature a performance of Bartok’s Rhapsody No. 1 for Violin and Orchestra. The Hungarian composer is one of the most important figures in 20th-century music and also hugely influential in the field of ethnomusicology, the anthropological study of the world’s musical traditions.

Using early recording technology, Bartok would travel throughout Hungary and document the country’s folk music. Bartok’s folk-inspired compositions, including the virtuosic First Rhapsody, would change the sound of classical music.

“The First Rhapsody is evocative of folk dance and song, featuring idiosyncratic rhythms, harmonies and melodic shapes that will sound different from Western European musical conventions,” said violinist Laura Longman, who will be the featured soloist. “I love this piece personally because it showcases different facets of performance, from expressive lyrical passages to the exciting, blistering finish, all while capturing a unique sound.”

Longman has bachelor and master’s degrees in music from the University of Michigan and is currently a member of the Toledo Symphony Orchestra.

M.A. Deen, Janice Ward Parrish and Blue River Bistro are the NRO’s sponsors for this concert. For tickets and more information, call (970) 547-3100, or visit

Benjamin Paul is the marketing and public relations intern for the National Repertory Orchestra.

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