The closing event of this year’s Summer Festival at the Music Academy of the West puts a new sheen on the words “big finish.”

The concert by the Academy Festival Orchestra — at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Granada Theater — strikes me as the largest-scaled event ever mounted by the Academy.

The single work on the program is the Symphony No. 3 in D minor by Gustav Mahler. Peter Oundjian, music director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, will conduct. The solos in the fourth and fifth movements will be taken by Jennifer Feinstein, mezzo-soprano, while the chorus in the fifth movement will combine the Women of the Santa Barbara Choral Society, with director JoAnne Wasserman, and the Santa Barbara Children’s Chorus.

His Third Symphony is the Mahler lover’s Mahler. All that we love in his music, as well as all that the snooty academics disparage, is to be found in abundance in this colossal score.

From its opening fanfare — a variant of the same Austrian folk tune that Brahms used so meltingly in the finale of his First Symphony — to the majestic conclusion of the sixth movement adagio, the Third is Mahler being Mahler to the utmost of his passionate, all-embracing soul.

“In the midst of life,” the Book of Common Prayer says, “we are in death.” That might have been a gloss on Mahler’s childhood.

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Gustav Mahler reveals his passionate, all-embracing soul in his Third Symphony.

Half of his 14 siblings died before they reached adulthood. He spent six months in constant attendance at the sickbed of a beloved brother, who died in his arms. He didn’t expect to live very long himself, and he didn’t, dying of heart failure before his 51st birthday.

This hyperconsciousness of his own mortality had something to do with the size of his compositions. He had a lot to say in his music, and he wanted to get it all said. He wanted each composition to stand alone as his last will and testament. Certainly the Third, if it were all we had of him, would provide an amazingly complete catalog of his ideas, his themes and his obsessions.

The Third Symphony describes a soul’s progress, in six stages, from inanimate nature (“Pan awakes — summer marches in”) up the evolutionary ladder through trees and flowers, through birds and animals, through the world of man, through the realm of angels, to God (“God” being synonymous, in Mahler’s cosmos, with “love”). It is a journey that, once taken, changes the traveler’s life. And as often as we take it again, it never becomes boring.

Tickets may be purchased at the door, one hour before the concert, or by calling 805.969.8787 or faxing an order to 805.969.4037. Reserved seating costs $45, $25 or $10 and includes Granada facility fee.

Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.