Alexander Mickelthwate leads the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (Keith Levit)
It goes through every emotion that is conceivable, from the sublime, elegant, beautiful and loving to the most grotesque and almost distorted. The range is unbelievable.
—Alexander Mickelthwate, conductor
"It is an emotional ride that is unprecedented," says conductor Alexander Mickelthwate.
Gustav Mahler's epic Symphony No. 7 is considered a monumental masterpiece. And it's finally getting its very first performance by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.
"It goes through every emotion that is conceivable, from the sublime, elegant, beautiful and loving to the most grotesque and almost distorted. The range is unbelievable," he explains.
It's also a huge challenge to conduct. First, there is the sheer number of musicians on stage. The orchestral forces swell from the usual 67 to a whopping 85, including cowbell, mandolin and guitar. There's hardly room for Mickelthwate on the stage.
There is so much happening in the music at the same time, he likens it to directing traffic on Confusion Corner. "You have to be really clear and give that character to them as strong as you can. It takes much more out of you than a regular Beethoven symphony."
The work is like a voyage from night into day. Mickelthwate is particularly struck by the two "Night Music" movements that are so evocative, capturing the mysteriousness and the dark magic of the night. "For me, it is the ultimate German romantic symphony in the sense that in Germany, I think moreso than in other countries of the 19th century, romanticism had many different shades."
The last movement pulls out all the stops as we are swept into the light of day.
"It's like this big kaleidoscope of all those deep-rooted images of the German psyche of this romantic time that makes it the most romantic symphony that has been written."
The WSO perform Mahler's 7th on November 16 and 17 at Centennial Concert Hall.