Just as there are different kinds of genius, there are different kind of sublimity. This weekend’s Grand Teton Music Festival concerts visit two of them.
The Festival Orchestra is set to present Mozart’s “Violin Concerto No. 5” (1775), with the prodigious and ubiquitous Hilary Hahn as guest soloist, and Mahler’s “Symphony No. 4” (1900), with soprano Heidi Stober singing in the heavenly fourth movement. Maestro Donald Runnicles, known as one of the world’s preeminent interpreters of the composer who is a crucial link between the romantic and modern, will conduct.
It’s not overstating things to say Mozart defined the classical era, taking the standardized forms of symphony, concerto and chamber music and perfecting them, combining formal structures with joy and profundity and life. He wrote his five violin concertos all around the same time, and all have the same brightness — full of memorable melodies, exciting work for the soloist and a sense of fun often associated with the prodigy in his teenage years.
Hilary Hahn, a prodigy herself, recorded Mozart’s Fifth for a 2015 Deutsche Grammophon disc and this year will take it to Asia for a number of performances. The Grand Teton Music Festival is the only place this season where she will present the Mahler piece.
A three-time Grammy winner, the Virginia native first picked up her instrument when she was just shy of 5 years old. By the time she was 10 she was enrolled at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. She made her orchestral debut in 1991, at age 11 in Baltimore, her international debut three years later in Hungary, and her Carnegie Hall debut in 1996, the same year she recorded the first of her 18 albums, selections by Bach. Over the past 20 years the young violinist has played for Pope Benedict XVI, Mr. Rogers and Conan O’Brien, and in the past 10 has crossed over to work with singer-songwriters like Josh Ritter and Tom Brosseau.
Deeply devoted to the music of Bach — “the touchstone that keeps my playing honest,” as she told American Public Media’s “Saint Paul Sunday” — and the classical repertoire, she also champions living composers, commissioning work from Edgar Meyer, Jennifer Higdon, James Howard Newton, David Lang and many others. In 2013 she released “In 27 Pieces: the Hilary Hahn Encores,” 27 short works by 27 different living composers.
She’s also avid about education and offering insights into her process, as with her Instagram project #100DaysOfPractice, her YouTube interview series and her “Postcards from the Road” blog on her website. Not content with her music degrees, she spent four summers learning German, French and Japanese in the total-immersion language school at Middlebury College, from which she received an honorary doctorate.
Mozart brought music right up the brink of the romantic era, which was then deepened and widened by the likes of Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Schumann and Brahms, and which reached transcendental heights in the works of Wagner, Sibelius, Tchaikovsky — and Gustav Mahler.
Mahler (1860-1911) wrote 10 symphonies, as well as a lot of other music for orchestra, using the ensemble like the palette of a painter. His symphonies are huge — No. 8 is referred to as “The Symphony of 1,000” for the size of the orchestra, its three choirs and eight solo vocalists.
Clocking in at about an hour, his “Symphony No. 4” is among his shorter works, but its subject matter is no less enormous than life — from childhood to old age, from Earthly nature to ineffable heaven. The fourth movement sets a song, “The Heavenly Life,” to music. The words are a child’s description of the afterlife, with a feast laid out for the chosen and angelic music permeating everything, sung with the Festival Orchestra by Stober, who Runnicles brings to the valley via his directorship at the Deutsche Oper Berlin.
Be prepared to be transported.
For tickets and information, visit GTMF.org or call 733-1128. ￼