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The New Mexican's Weekly Magazine of Arts, Entertainment & Culture Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Into the night: Steven Smith conducts Mahler's 7th

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Posted: Friday, April 11, 2014 5:00 am | Updated: 9:40 pm, Thu Apr 17, 2014.

Conductor Steven Smith took the reins as music director of the Santa Fe Symphony and Chorus in 1999, held them for 14 years, and then laid them down at the end of last season. It was not the leave taking one might have anticipated after so long a tenure: no congratulatory gala, no retrospective tribute booklet, no brouhaha whatsoever. In fact, that final concert last May was not really his farewell. Although the symphony’s roster this season and next features a parade of conductors under consideration to succeed Smith — though as principal conductor rather than music director — this weekend’s concert is entrusted to the man himself. Again, the group is not advertising this as a farewell performance, and it isn’t at all clear whether it is one or not. But if it turns out that it is, Smith will be going out with a “big statement,” conducting the longest strictly orchestral work he will ever have led with the Santa Fe Symphony, the Symphony No. 7 of Gustav Mahler.

The entire concert will be given over to this piece, which runs about 80 minutes. Mahler struggled to balance the competing demands of conducting and composing, devoting himself to the former from autumn through spring and withdrawing to some bucolic spot to compose during the summer. He wrote his five-movement Seventh Symphony at the villa he constructed on the Wörthersee, a lake in the Austrian province of Kärnten (Carinthia), over the course of two summers: its two slow movements, both of which he titled “Nachtmusik” (Night Music), in 1904, the other three movements in 1905, while on vacation from his job as director of the Vienna Court Opera. By the time he led the work’s premiere, in Prague in September 1908, he had resigned his post in Vienna and had largely moved his career to New York, where he was conducting at the Metropolitan Opera and would soon assume the music directorship of the New York Philharmonic.

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