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.