Ukiah Symphony Orchestra to present ‘Cycle / Recycle’ concert – The Ukiah Daily Journal



There are 19 musicians’ chairs neatly arranged four feet apart on the stage of the Mendocino College Center Theater, with an orchestral shell behind them and empty rows of auditorium seats in front of them. The Ukiah Symphony Orchestra returns together on stage for its first concert of the 2021-22 season and for the first time in over a year.

The performance, “Cycle / Recycle,” will feature ambitious orchestral works by composers like Gustav Mahler that have been reorganized for a smaller setting, a guest mezzo soprano, and will feature musicians from the local community.

While the musicians will perform live at the Théâtre du Center, the audience will once again be entirely virtual.

“The symphony is changing in several positive ways. We have more people than normal currently in college and hopefully that will continue to grow, ”said Music Director Phillip Lenberg.

The symphony includes an audition-based course offered at the college, in addition to including talent from the community. However, despite having new faces behind the instruments, the orchestra is currently limited to 20 musicians on stage at a time.

While the pandemic-influenced setting makes the group more intimate, having only the bare bones of an orchestra also comes with its fair share of challenges. One unusual layer of difficulty that orchestra members had to navigate is the physical space between each musician.

As listening to musical cues from instruments across the room can be difficult for distant musicians, Lenberg’s role as conductor has become even more essential.

Mendocino College Music Director Phillip Lenberg conducts the Ukiah Symphony Orchestra at the Mendocino College Center Theater.

“I noticed that I have to wire up what I’m doing really too much, because half of your face is missing,” said Lenberg, referring to what it is like to wear a mask while directing.

His directing relies on body language and eye contact, but Lenberg says the trust that gradually builds between him and the musicians is also what makes the music start to flow naturally.

The intimidating scores Lenberg selected for the performance also reflects his confidence in the abilities of the orchestra.

“It’s very difficult for a community orchestra to perform Mahler,” says Lenberg. This is in part due to Mahler’s complex scores, with each bar containing some kind of cue for the musician. As a rule, only large orchestras can play Mahler’s song cycles, which are groups of compositions intended to be played together.

Lenberg adds: “Not only technically, but it takes a lot of focus and a lot of detail from the performers.”

The arrangement of Mahler’s cycle of songs that the symphony uses explains the “recycling” aspect of the performance, as other famous composers were responsible for transforming the music to fit a smaller group of musicians.

By the turn of the century in Vienna, Austria, it was common for musicians to hold weekly salon meetings where they rearranged large orchestral works for quartets and other small ensembles – this is how they transformed the work of Mahler. To fill in the musical gaps left by omitted instruments, a piano or harmonium was often used to create a full sound.

Ben Rueb, a classically trained pianist, will perform in the next concert for his first live performance with the symphony. In addition, Janice Timm returns to play the harmonium.

Mahler’s cycle of songs that the orchestra will play, “Songs of a Wayfarer”, is considered a collection of songs he wrote as a result of a failed relationship with a soprano.

His musical composition is set to the text of four poems he wrote himself, which is also a unique part of the cycle, as most composers write music over poems that others have written.

“It is clear that the sorrow he felt is very palpable in his songs,” notes guest soprano Melinda Martinez Becker. “They are beautifully illustrative, and you can hear it’s just this beautiful reminder that art can imitate life.”

The title of the first movement roughly translates to “When my sweetheart is married” and describes the devastation Mahler felt at losing his loved one to someone else. The second movement, “I Went This Morning Over to the Field”, contains the most joyous music of the cycle until the end, when it is reminded that despite the beauty of the world, his happiness will not bloom again.

“The third movement is major despair; I call it the ‘metallica movement’, ”says Becker. “It’s intense and motivating and it fits with the agonizing nature of his obsession with losing this person.”

The title: “I have a shining knife”. The music in the third movement compares the agony of losing love with the pain of having a knife in your heart.

The final movement, “The two blue eyes of my beloved”, is a gentle revolution. Mahler describes how the image of his eyes has caused him so much grief that he can’t stand being awake.

Lenberg notes that Mahler uses a rhythm related to European funeral processions in the final movement, in a “very literal reference to this dying love”.

Becker will accompany the orchestra throughout Mahler’s song cycle. Her performance with the symphony will be her first time back on stage – in a room with more than one person – since the pandemic struck.

“It’s a real pleasure to start playing with other people again and to feel that energy in the room and to feel the vibration of all the instruments around you, it’s really powerful,” said Becker.

In his career as a mezzo soprano, Becker has mainly played chamber music. This often includes singing with guitar duets, string quartets and piano trios. “And every once in a while you have the chance to play with an orchestra,” she says.

Becker was originally scheduled to be a part of the symphony concert in May 2020, but with pandemic restrictions preventing live performances for more than a year, his role in the symphony has been postponed twice.

“Finally, here we are,” says Becker. “I have to express my gratitude for this opportunity, and it is so special to play this cycle of songs for my first performance on stage.”

In addition to Mahler, other composers will be featured in the upcoming symphonic performance, including Nancy Bloomer Deussen, Hanna Benn and Claude Debussy. Lenberg continues to strive to include under-represented composers in every concert this season, which primarily means women and people of color.

Unlike Mahler’s Intensity, the other three works by the other composers are colorful and dreamlike, according to Lenberg. Debussy’s piece, “Prélude à après-midi d’un Faun”, was written in the French Impressionist period at the turn of the century and shares certain qualities of Impressionist art: harmonies blend together, music blend together. constantly transforms and forces musicians to emphasize a specific sound style as they perform.

Deussen’s “Peninsula Suite” and Benn’s “Where Springs Not Fail” are written for strings only, so the concert will be an instrumental mix from start to finish.

“Coming back and seeing everyone in person was heartwarming and extraordinarily inspiring,” Lenberg concludes. “Not only to reconnect with the orchestra as human beings, but to grow up with them over the past two months to this incredible music that we have the privilege of playing is truly inspiring.”

“Cycle / Recycle” was recorded by professionals and will be broadcast live at 8pm on October 22nd. The performance is accessible via, where single concert tickets or season tickets can be purchased.

Mezzo soprano Melinda Martinez Becker performing “Songs of a Wayfarer” by Gustav Mahler.


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