Preview: Magnificent Mahler

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From the February 9, 2012 edition

In general, the more musicians needed to perform an orchestral work, the more exciting that piece promises to be. (Diehard Mozart fans, feel free to object.) Late-Romantic composer Gustav Mahler had no interest in puny orchestras. His symphonies have nicknames like “The Titan” and “Symphony of a Thousand” because he liked to have as many musicians on stage — and off stage, where extra musicians perform far-away-sounding parts — as possible.

Mahler’s Symphony No. 6 in A Minor, nicknamed “The Tragic,” is mammoth, both in terms of the required personnel and the 80-minute length that makes it stand alone on concert programs. On top of a full arsenal of woodwinds, brass instruments and harps, it calls for a second timpanist, a percussionist wielding a cartoonishly big wooden hammer and an off-stage musician playing a set of tuned cowbells. Columbus Symphony Music Director Jean-Marie Zeitouni says the powerful piece is his favorite, so the local orchestra will no doubt sound especially inspired during this weekend’s performances.