Grandeur is the byword as the Ventura Symphony continues its season Saturday night. Mahler's gargantuan Symphony No. 2 in C minor, "Resurrection," will fill the Oxnard Civic Auditorium with the sounds of more than 110 musicians, including an organist and the Ventura Master Chorale for the climactic finale. Mezzo-soprano Patricia Miller and soprano Camille King will also be featured.
In a concert season stressing diversity, the upcoming concert is clearly the Ventura Symphony's ode to the massive symphonic gesture. As Ventura Symphony administrator Karine Beesley reported: "We are actually bringing in a Rogers organ with two seven-foot-tall speakers. We'll just blow people out of their seats."
Music director Frank Salazar spoke about the pervasive force of Gustav Mahler in a lunch interview at Ventura College, where he has taught since 1956.
"Conductors eventually always come around to Mahler," he said. "He was a conductor, and he was always having the same problems a lot of conductors have--trying to be adventurous, trying to show . . . the idea of moving forward, taking risks. Of course, the resistance that he met eventually killed him.
"When we hear this incredible music that he made, this insight, this depth, this extension, you might say, of Beethoven's "Eroica" symphony to great heights, we know not only its historical and aesthetic importance but its magnificent beauty that we don't want anybody to miss out on."
A founding father of the Ventura Symphony and a pillar of the Ventura music community, Salazar has long understood his task as not only producing fine orchestral music but also teaching concert-goers about the breadth and cultural reference points in classical music. As such, he relates to Mahler's example.
"He was always a champion of his contemporaries and moderns, at great expense," Salazar said. "He was always being fired from this, thrown out of this and castigated for this. Terrible letters were being written about the fact that he was playing the music of his contemporaries. Every conductor in the world has that problem, except for those who sell out," Salazar said with a laugh. "And it's easy to sell out."
The music of Mahler slowly worked its way into standard orchestral repertoire and the composer now takes his place in the ranks of artists who have channeled internal struggles into the stuff of great romantic art. His music is often considered a critical bridge between the romanticism of the 19th Century and the modernism of the 20th.
"He felt ostracized all the time," Salazar said. "To the Viennese, he was a bohemian and a foreigner. To the Catholics, he was a Jew. To the world, he was a Jew and a musician. He had all the things working against him. But he was such a powerful personality that in front of one of the most anti-Semitic orchestras in the world--the Vienna Opera--that here we had this man with all this charisma, power. He just swept everybody away."
Salazar leaned over the table for emphasis. "I don't use this word very often, but I can't think of a better place to use it--it was awesome."
That ability--and intention--to provoke awe is a hallmark of Mahler's large works. And the very largeness of his symphonies (the second clocks in at about 80 minutes) can be a sticking point for some audiences.
"Often people talk about the length of Mahler's works," Salazar said. "They are long, but they don't seem long because the ideas are so big."
Mahler's magnum opus comes at midpoint in a season that includes such provocative works as serialist Alban Berg's Violin Concerto (performed in October), Darius Milhaud's "La Creation du Monde" (part of the March concert) and a concert devoted entirely to American music last November.
Does Salazar strive to achieve a sense of balance over the course of a season?
"Your questions are always loaded with power words," Salazar said, smiling. "Yes, balance is a good word. But it's more than balance." He paused to reflect, and started molding an impromptu sculpture with his coffee cup.
"A composition has to have an architecture. But a whole concert also has to have an architecture. For anybody seeing that one concert, it has to have some kind of a structural architecture that's based on unity and variety, or balance and adventure. And it's not only every concert, but the whole season has to have a general architecture."
Up the Coast:
The Jazz and World Music Society, responsible for bringing most of the more challenging and offbeat musical treats to Santa Barbara over the last decade, is at it again this spring. This Saturday's concert by the John Carter Quintet marks the start of a hot series titled "New Jazz at Center Stage Theater."