A Rare Spectacle

Classic Arts Features   A Rare Spectacle
The history of Mahler's Eighth at Carnegie Hall

A rare musical event occurs at Carnegie Hall on October 25, 2004, when James Levine conducts the Boston Symphony in a performance of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 8. The least performed of Mahler's symphonies‹no doubt because of the huge forces required (including choirs, vocal octet, augmented brass and woodwinds, organ, celesta, and mandolin)‹the "Symphony of a Thousand" has been performed just 15 times at Carnegie Hall since 1950, when Leopold Stokowski conducted the New York Philharmonic's first performance of it here.

Stokowski conducted the U.S. premiere in Philadelphia, on March 2, 1916, and brought the entire ensemble to New York City a month later for a performance at the Metropolitan Opera House. But even with its great reception from audience members and critics, only one other performance would take place in New York City in the 34 years that followed. (Compare that to Mahler's Symphony No. 1, which has had 108 Carnegie Hall performances since its U.S. premiere at the Hall in 1909, with Mahler himself conducting.)

And what happens when this rare spectacle is combined with another rare musical event? Sometimes, as on November 1, 1977, it makes the front page of the New York Times. The occasion was a highly anticipated performance of the Mahler's Eighth at Carnegie Hall with the Chicago Symphony under Sir Georg Solti. Solti suffered a bad fall, however, and at the last minute, Margaret Hillis, the founder of the Chicago Symphony Chorus, was asked to be the maestro's replacement. At the evening's conclusion, the audience stood cheering for more than 40 minutes.

‹Gino Francesconi
Archivist and Museum Director, Carnegie Hall

Visit the Rose Museum to find out more about Carnegie Hall's rich and diverse history.

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