Twenty four years ago today, I experienced one of the most exciting and artistically fulfilling singing engagements of my entire career – the opportunity to sing Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde” (The Song of the Earth – in Czech, Pisen o zemi, see below for proper title in Czech) – in one of Europe’s most beautiful and historic concert halls, the Rudolfinum in Prague.
My dear father-in-law, Milan Vitek, conducted the Czech Radio Orchestra for this concert. When I lived in Prague with my then husband Tomas Vitek from 1993-1996, we attended many concerts at the Rudolfinum, especially loving the performances by the famous Czech Philharmonic.
We moved to Copenhagen from Prague in 1996, but frequently went back to visit friends and hear concerts.
When Milan was invited by the Czech Radio Orchestra to conduct a concert at the Rudolfinum in 1995, he asked me to choose the vocal piece. I knew it had to be something by Mahler since one of my very favorite composers had very strong ties to Prague.
All of Mahler’s vocal pieces with orchestra require serious study, preparation, and concentration. While I did not perform the 3 mezzo movements in “Das Lied von der Erde” from memory, I was glad that I used a full orchestra score so that I could get instrumental cues for my entrances.
Especially challenging is the final movement, “Abschied” (Farewell), which opens with a very lengthy orchestral section (about 12 minutes, as I recall), when the singer must stand thoughtfully before the first entrance.
The Prague concert opened with Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony”. I will never forget that magical evening, for which I had been preparing many months.
PS – I have been quite privileged to have been able to sing 3 other huge works of Mahler for voice and orchestra – Symphony No. 2 (The Resurrection), which includes a beautiful movement for alto, “Urlicht”, with the NH Symphony Orchestra around 2005, conducted by Ken Kiesler, and more recently in 2018 with the SNHU orchestra conducted by Rick Cook.
Before I left NYC in 1993, I had performed the “Kindertotenlieder” (Songs on the Death of Children) with the NY Symphonic Arts Ensemble conducted by Alex Guzman, and also in Slovakia around 1995 with the Kosice Symphony Orchestra.
In 2012 or so, the Nashua NH and Lexington MA symphony orchestras, conducted by Jonathan McPhee, presented one of Mahler’s monumental works for orchestra, soloists and choir – the Symphony No. 8 (“Symphony of a Thousand”). This piece is about as close to an opera that Mahler ever came, as the soloists all had names and extended sections that could be considered by some as “arias.”
I’m so grateful to have been able to sing these glorious Mahler works with professional artists and orchestras over the past 30 years.