The Moving Sounds Festival 2018 explores the influence of Gustav Mahler, the first truly modern composer, on contemporary music and culture. British musician Deryck Cooke wrote, “In Mahler we find expressed for the first time the dilemma of that typically modern figure, the man who is uprooted and out of his element. In consequence, he could find no stable society to be a part of, and his life was an unremitting quest to discover some accepted attitude with which to identify himself.” The featured composers in this festival are Mahler’s soulmates; the cultural tensions between these artists and their respective environments create rich and sometimes unsolvable tensions in their music. As a modern artist, Mahler was determined to challenge his audiences, not just to please them, and these composers respond to the substantial list of provocations that are intrinsic to Mahler’s work: his apocalyptic orchestral premonitions; his transition-less cinematic editing; his postmodern aesthetic all-inclusivity; his use of music to construct an intensely autobiographical narrative; his ability to articulate complex negative emotions in a precise manner; and, as Cooke points out, his perpetual identity crises. Mahler was the first to ask “Who am I?” through ambitious musical forms, and since the issue of personal identity is so essential to contemporary composers, his question puts him at the very center of cultural artistic inquiry today. Paul Griffiths wrote, “Mahler is the universal ancestor, the totem claimed by all. That so many 20th-century composers have been able to see themselves in the glass of Mahler‘s music is perhaps because that glass is fatally cracked. Mahler seems in his music to be breaking through the circumstances of an art form and to be speaking to us directly.”

One “fatal crack” that the festival will explore are the circumstances within the marriage between Gustav Mahler and his wife Alma, who was a young compositional prodigy
until she agreed to Gustav’s pre-condition to their marriage: that she stop composing. Composers Patricia Alessandrini, Meaghan Burke, and Bernd Klug creatively explore aspects of this relationship and the consequences of his demands on both of their lives, including Alma’s music itself. Mahler’s 9th Symphony specifically inspired two key compositions in the festival by Taylor Brook and Oliver Schneller, the latter of which uses surround-sound live electronics to recreate a breakdown of metrical time that is inspired by the 9th’s conclusion. Jesse Jones responds directly to the Eastern philosophical fascination of Das Lied von der Erde, whereas Gerhard Krammer reacts to the source of Mahler’s inspiration, poet Friedrich Rückert, creating a song cycle of his own. Pianist/composer Elisabeth Harnik herself performs within a 30-minute improvisational framework inspired by Mahler’s music. The Argento New Music Project will perform all the ensemble works in the festival, including a new two-movement
version of Mahler’s 10th Symphony. Finally, audiences will have an opportunity to discuss Mahler in symposia and post-concert discussions, featuring the composers listed above as well as acclaimed Mahler scholars Marilyn McCoy and Thomas Schäfer. The events take place in New York City at the Austrian Cultural Forum New York (11 E 52nd St), Saint Peter’s Church (619 Lexington Ave), North of History Gallery (445 Columbus Ave), and the Music Mondays concert series at Advent Lutheran Church (2504 Broadway). Mahler festivals worldwide have long followed the approach of looking at Mahler through a historical lens, but Moving Sounds 2018 is a different kind of exploration. From October 1–4 we explore Mahler and our world, here and now.

Michel Galante
Moving Sounds 2018 Curator
Argento New Music Project Artistic Director