Gustav Mahler is much on the mind of symphony orchestras these days. Over the next two seasons the composer will be celebrated to mark the 150th anniversary of his birth this year and the 100th anniversary of his death next year. This weekend, the Florida Orchestra and music director Stefan Sanderling perform his Sixth Symphony.
Why Mahler? asks a new book by Norman Lebrecht, who tries to answer "the riddle of why Mahler had risen from near oblivion, to displace Beethoven as the most popular and influential symphonist of our age.''
Lebrecht, an English music journalist who has written several popular books, including The Maestro Myth and Who Killed Classical Music?, argues that Mahler's 10 symphonies are central to modern sensibilities.
"Art that is both high and low, original and derived, breathtaking and banal, Mahler's music resists textbook analysis,'' he writes. "It is an open-ended mind game of intellectual and ironic discourse, a voyage of discovery that combines self-revelation, consolation and renewal. Mahler's remedy is there whenever we need it. Each symphony is a search engine for inner truths. To know Mahler is ultimately to know ourselves.''
The orchestra for Symphony No. 6, which Lebrecht describes as "Mahler's prophetic heart of darkness,'' is second in size only to the mammoth Eighth Symphony (Symphony of a Thousand). Principal French horn Robert Rearden leads a section of nine horns.
Concerts are at 8 p.m. Friday at Morsani Hall of the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, Tampa; 8 p.m. Saturday at Mahaffey Theater, St. Petersburg; and 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater. $20-$67, with student tickets for $10. (727) 892-3337 or toll-free 1-800-662-7286; floridaorchestra.org.
John Fleming, Times performing arts critic