By the time he completed his monumental Second Symphony in 1894, composer Gustav Mahler was so accustomed to being misunderstood that he had already prepared an explanation for his critics.
"If you wish to know, it is the Hero of my First Symphony whom I bear to the grave," Mahler wrote. "Immediately arise the great questions: Why have you lived? Why have you suffered? Has it all been only a huge, frightful joke?
"We must all somehow answer these questions, if we are to continue living, yes, even if we are only to continue dying. Whoever hears this call must give a reply."
Mahler's reply, one of the great musical statements of his age, will again speak to ours when the Peabody Symphony Orchestra performs his Second Symphony, subtitled "The Resurrection," in Meyerhoff Symphony Hall tomorrow at 3 p.m. under the baton of music director Hajime Teri Murai.
The occasion will mark the 100th anniversary of the Peabody Symphony Orchestra, Baltimore's oldest continuously operating orchestral ensemble.
In its century-long history, the PSO has premiered hundreds of new works and given the Baltimore premieres of countless more. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke will briefly address the gathering as part of the city's bicentennial observance.
The Mahler Second has not been performed in Baltimore since 1987, in large part because of the immense musical forces it requires. Mahler scored the work for a gigantic orchestra that includes pipe organ, church bells, four off-stage horns, four off-stage trumpets, a wide variety of percussion instruments -- .. including tam-tams (a variety of gongs) and Ruthe (a bundle of sticks) -- and another percussion group "heard in the distance."
The symphony is also the first of Mahler's large-scale works that calls on the human voice -- a soprano, contralto and chorus. Soprano Phyllis Bryn-Julson and mezzo-soprano Marianna Busching, both of the Peabody faculty, will perform the solo parts.
The chorus will be made up of the Peabody Singers and Peabody Chorus, under the direction of Edward Polochick, and the Morgan State University Choir under the direction of Nathan Carter. Before the performance, Carter will receive the Peabody Distinguished Alumni Award for his achievements in the field of choral conducting.
"I had my first choral rehearsal Monday, and we had a wonderful time," said conductor Hajime Teri Murai. "I like doing big projects, but over and beyond the music there's a wonderful social aspect. Including all the musicians, singers and technical personnel, we'll have more than 300 people working to make this performance happen."
Mahler's Second Symphony was first presented on March 4, 1895, in Berlin, with Richard Strauss, an early champion of Mahler's music, conducting. But though audiences were appreciative, the critics were devastating. One of them described the symphony as "the cynical impudence of this brutal music maker."
Even Hans von Bulow, one of the era's most important musical figures and an admirer of Mahler the conductor, had nothing good to say about Mahler the composer.
"If this is still music," von Bulow remarked of the Second Symphony, "I know nothing of music."
Yet Mahler stubbornly pushed ahead. "Meine Zeit wird noch kommen," he insisted ("My time will come"). And time has proved him right.
"He is really pre-Expressionist," says conductor Murai. "He was really pushing the limits of what tonality could do.
"I don't think Mahler knew what was going to happen in terms of the two world wars and all the destruction and death of our century. But he already sensed that his world wouldn't exist, though he couldn't imagine how it would be destroyed or to what extent.
"His music is a document of an era that doesn't exist anymore. There is a nostalgia in it, a simplicity, yet that is contrasted by a dark side of menacing forces."
What: Peabody Symphony Orchestra performs Mahler's Symphony No. 2 in C Minor, "The Resurrection"
When: Tomorrow, 3 p.m.
Where: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St.
Pub Date: 4/05/97