Symphony of a Thousand in the Opera

This concert was played:

  1. Symphony No. 8
  1. Jukka-Pekka Saraste conductor
  2. Irene Theorin soprano
  3. Marita Sølberg soprano
  4. Mari Eriksmoen soprano
  5. Tone Kummervold alto
  6. Charlotte Hellekant alto
  7. Nikolai Schukoff tenor
  8. Andrew Foster Williams baritone
  9. John Relyea bass
  10. The Norwegian National Opera Orchestra
  11. The Norwegian National Opera Choir
  12. Oslo Philharmonic Choir

Jukka-Pekka Saraste conducts orchestra, choir and soloists in Mahler’s massive Symphony No. 8.

Veni, creator spiritus Come Creator Spirit! enthuses the choir while the organ surges, and soon afterwards the entire orchestra joins in on a gigantic tribute to art, life and love in Mahler’s unique work, his colossal eigth symphony. It is said that at the world premiere of the work in 1910, there were more than a thousand performers on stage, and in this concert, we present the “Symphony of a Thousand” in the Opera as the Oslo Philharmonic joins forces with the Norwegian Opera and Ballet, eight soloists, and a huge choir, led by conductor Jukka-Pekka Saraste.

Imagine the entire universe sounding. You no longer hear human voices, but the sound of planets and suns spinning around us (Gustav Mahler on his eighth symphony).

Mahler’s music became an important part of the Oslo Philharmonic’s repertoire already in its first season in 1919, when Symphony No. 1 was performed for the first time in Norway. Just a few years later, central figures in Oslo’s music life started dreaming of a performance of Mahler’s gigantic eighth symphony. Still, six decades would pass before this dream was fulfilled. On 22 February 1979, Oslo audiences were finally able to experience the “Symphony of a Thousand” when Oslo’s Academic Choir, Sølvguttene, Oslo Philharmonic Choir, eight soloists, the Norwegian Radio Orchestra, the Oslo Philharmonic and conductor Okko Kamu squeezed in to the two-year-old Oslo Concert Hall. Both the audience and critics reported an overwhelming experience.

Gustav Mahler (1860−1911) once said to his composer colleague Sibelius that “a symphony must be like the world. It must encompass everything”. With this as a starting point it’s hardly surprising that Mahler the modernist would supercede all boundaries for what a symphony should and could contain - both musically and spiritually. In Symphony No. 8 (1906), there isn’t much left of the traditional symphony, with its four movements and definite patterns for the development of motives, tonal progression and musical development. Symphony No 8 is, instead, made up of two giant parts, each saturated with its respective spiritual content both in terms of text and music, but sewn together nevertheless to comprise one masterful unit.

The first part of the symphony is based on the Catholic hymn from the Middle Ages, Veni Creator Spiritus, which is often translated as Come, Creator Spirit!, probably written by Rabanus Maurus during the 9th century. Mahler had earlier used choir and soloists in his symphonies, but never a religious Latin text. The movement is also unique in Mahler’s production by having a completely unique complexity of counterpoint. Mahler had grown increasingly interested in Bach’s fugues and other compositions, and, when listening to this movement, we might easily imagine that this had coloured his own musical language.

After the grandiose beginning, an even more overwhelming second movement follows. Here, the medieval hymn is replaced by the finest German literature from the 1800s: the famous final scene of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust. For Mahler, both texts were about the redemptive power of love, and he strengthened this feeling of unity by using many of the same musical ideas in both movements. The words of the mysterious final choir are the most elusive, but also the strongest textual expression of this fundamental idea:

All that is transient is only surface; impermeability opens its source.

We find the unfindable. All which is infinite-woman lifts us home.

The world premiere of Symphony No. 8 in Munich in 1910 was one of the greatest events in cultural history. The concert hall was filled with renowned composers, conductors, writers and others who had the opportunity to experience the 850-strong choir, orchestra of 170 musicians, eight vocal soloists, and Mahler himself conducting. Mahler was not accustomed to a positive reception of his new works, but this concert was a big triumph. The applause is said to have exceeded twenty minutes in length after the final, grandiose E-flat Major chord rang out in the concert hall in Munich. This was the very last concert where Mahler conducted his own music. He died of an infectious disease eight months later.

(Text: Thomas Erma Møller; Translation from Norwegian: Sarah Osa; Photo: Erik Berg)

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Tickets

  • Adult: 100 - 495 NOK
  • Senior: 100 - 400 NOK
  • Student: 100 - 258 NOK
  • Child: 100 - 258 NOK

The concert is not included in any subscriptions.

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