One look at the repertoire for the opening concert of the Texas Music Festival and one can make one assertion: This is a music festival with attitude.
Mahler's Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection" is the kind of work that student orchestras would typically spend a month or so preparing for performance, the myriad specific German instructions easily confusing musicians who aren't familiar with the language. And because everything has a rhyme and reason in Mahler, not executing the oeuvre as the Austrian composer intended could mean the difference between a fantastic performance and a 90-minute yawn.
In just shy of a week, the orchestra fellows have prepared for a concert that will sound the beginning of the 25th annual tradition at the University of Houston's Moores School of Music. Set for 7:30 p.m. Saturday, the performance, in collaboration with the Houston Symphony Chorus directed by Charles Hausmann, welcomes soprano Cynthia Clayton and mezzo-soprano Melanie Sonnenberg as soloists.
But music director and chief conductor Franz Anton Krager isn't one to shy away from a challenge, although he admits that in the past he used to do just that.
"We've been starting with massive-type works for as far as my memory serves me," Krager says. "That's part of the secret to attract the type of students we want to come here. What it does — it helps students bond and congeal for the rest of the summer."
"When there's no room for error, when failure is not an option, human beings will rise to the occasion."
Krager says that he's been on a Mahler kick for about 12 years. He describes Mahler's music as a high lofty goal for maestros. When Krager was a young conductor, he avoided Mahler because he considered himself not experienced enough to take on the responsibility.
But then he learned that honoring the composer's voice, as uniquely wonderful as it may be, isn't any different than honoring the music of other masters, such as Bach, Beethoven or Brahms.
"When you know you have to do it — you do it." he adds. "When there's no room for error, when failure is not an option, human beings will rise to the occasion."
Krager also wanted to dedicate the season, and specifically this concert, to the memory of a seminal figure in Houston's classical music scene and a close colleague who helped launch Krager's career.
"The founder of the festival and the former director of the Moores School of Music, David Tomatz, passed away in January," Krager says. "He brought me to Houston. I owe this gentleman my entire career. He took me out of obscurity and set me up here for total success."
Watch the video above for a behind-the-scenes rehearsal in which the Texas Festival Orchestra performs excerpts from the magnum opus, alongside commentary from Krager plus orchestral fellows Carly Gomez, Jacob Wiggins and Oliver Scott.
The 25th Annual Immanuel and Helen Olshan Texas Music Festival presents Mahler's Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection" at the University of Houston's Moores Opera House. The evening begins at 6:30 p.m. with pre-concert entertainment followed by a pre-concert lecture from 6:40 to 7:10 p.m. The performance starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for students and seniors, and $8 for groups of 10 or more. Tickets may be purchased online or by calling 713-743-3313.