By a fortuitous accident of scheduling, Mahler fans in the area can drink in both of his heaven-reaching choral symphonies this week - No. 2, known as the Resurrection; and No. 8, nicknamed "Symphony of a Thousand." All signs point to memorable performances of each.
If Beethoven's Ninth is the most life-affirming of symphonies, Mahler's Second and Eighth are the most afterlife-affirming.
Mahler was invariably haunted by thoughts of death, as well as finely attuned to the light and darkness of this existence. His Second Symphony from 1894 encompasses the full range of his feelings. The work carries the listener through a fleshly and spiritual journey that includes a taste of apocalyptic horror and, in the sublime close, an assurance of ascension "into the light that no eye has ever reached."
Mahler's Eighth functions as something of a sequel since it dwells almost entirely in the beyond, a realm where we "hardly sense the fresh, new life" and are "dazzled by the new day."
From the opening ancient Latin hymn to the final, mystical words of Goethe's Faust, the symphony is, in the truest sense, otherworldly. It's also a stunning sonic statement - the nickname derives from the 1,000-plus singers and instrumentalists who gave the premiere in 1910.
It was with the Resurrection that Yuri Temirkanov, whose Mahler interpretations have been of the same expressive intensity as his Tchaikovsky or Shostakovich, opened his tenure as Baltimore Symphony Orchestra music director in January 2000. He returns to the score for his swan song, with the same golden-voiced soloists from six years ago - soprano Janice Chandler-Eteme and mezzo-soprano Nancy Maultsby.
The Baltimore Symphony Chorus, which performed at that Temirkanov inaugural, was controversially disbanded in 2002, but about 40 former members of that ensemble will to sing in this farewell, joining members of the Baltimore Choral Arts Society and Morgan State University Choir.
Tickets are just about gone for the performance at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda. And they're getting scarcer for performances at 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 3 p.m. Sunday at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St. Call 410-783-8000.
Meanwhile, the National Symphony Orchestra caps its 75th anniversary season with Mahler's Eighth, led by music director Leonard Slatkin, who has long revealed a strong affinity for the composer. Slatkin will have a stellar team of vocal soloists to intone the texts, including sopranos Jane Eaglen and Christine Brewer and baritone Donnie Ray Albert.
The Choral Arts Society of Washington, Cathedral Choral Society, Master Chorale of Washington and Children's Chorus of Washington will be crammed into the Kennedy Center Concert Hall for the performances at 7 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Sorry to say, all concerts are sold out, but maybe cajolery or bribery would work. Call 800-444-1324.
Besides all the Mahler being sung in the days ahead, more choral activity can be found on Sunday. Chorus America, an organization representing choral ensembles from around the country, will close its 29th Annual Conference with more than 300 singers performing a salute to American choral music, from the Revolutionary War to present day.
The concert is at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda. Admission is free. To reserve tickets, call 301-581-5100.