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Gerald Carpenter: Santa Barbara Symphony Resurrects Mahler

At 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday in the Granada Theatre, we will have the final pair of concerts from the Santa Barbara Symphony’s 2012-13 season.

The concerts, conducted by Nir Kabaretti, will also have the boon of a stunning collection of guest talents, including soprano Jennifer Black, mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford, the Santa Barbara Choral Society director Jo Anne Wasserman and Quire of Voyces director Nathan Kreitzer.

The object of all this massed musical might and skill is, of course, Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 in C-Minor, “Resurrection”.

The “Resurrection” is Mahler’s best-known work, and probably his most frequently performed — although there are several that are shorter and/or cheaper.

The reasons for this preeminence are not immediately obvious to Mahlerites. It is a great work, to be sure, brimming with passages of breathless grandeur and heartbreaking beauty. It is widely, if too simplistically, viewed as the composer’s signature work.

From 1894, when it was premiered, to 1960, when Leonard Bernstein celebrated the Mahler centennial by performing and recording all nine of the symphonies with the New York Philharmonic, it was just about the only complete Mahler symphony audiences were likely to hear (the occasional maverisk conductor might perform the exquisite “adagietto” from the Fifth Symphony).

Those converted to Mahler by Bernstein in the 1960s — including yours truly — often preferred the First, the gargantuan Third (my favorite), or the turbulent Fifth. Nevertheless, the “Resurrection” held its place. I think it is because, while Mahler might have written greater symphonies, he never matched the Second in coherent, irresistible drama. The dark, mysterious opening sweeps us up into this tortured soul’s struggle toward redemption and keeps us spellbound until we pass in triumph through the gates of paradise. No other musical experience is quite like it.

Tickets to the symphony concerts range from $35 to $100 and can be purchased from the Granada box office at 805.899.2222 or online by clicking here.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). The opinions expressed are his own.

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