Symphony No. 2 by Gustav Mahler, known as the Resurrection Symphony, was written between 1888 and 1894, and first performed in 1895. Apart from the Eighth Symphony, this symphony was Mahler's most popular and successful work during his lifetime. It was his first major work that established his lifelong view of the beauty of afterlife and resurrection. In this large work, the composer further developed the creativity of "sound of the distance" and creating a "world of its own", aspects already seen in his First Symphony.  The Harvard Glee Club, Radcliffe Choral Society, Harvard-Radcliffe Collegium Musicum, and Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra joined forces for this moving performance.

Sanders Theatre
Harvard University

Friday, April 20 at 8pm



Bernstein conducting the Boston Symphony in a performance of Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony at Tanglewood, in 1970.

Bernstein conducting the Boston Symphony in a performance of Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony at Tanglewood, in 1970.

Mahler’s Symphony #2 has a special place in the history of the Harvard Glee Club and the Radcliffe Choral Society. This is the final work for which beloved conductor Elliot Forbes prepared the choruses. As the Spring 1970 semester was coming to a close, and with it El’s time as conductor of the two choruses, members of HGC and RCS were looking forward to performing this work under the baton of Maestro Leonard Bernstein at Tanglewood. That July 5, 1970 Tanglewood concert proved to be a most memorable performance for both audience members and performers.

Recently, RCS alumna Linden Victoria “Vicki” Tompkins Smith ’71 reminisced about that performance and the rehearsals that led up to it:

  • I remember that weekend vividly, even 48 years later! Others who were there might remember them slightly differently (after all, it was 48 years ago!), but these two moments are quite clear in my mind. El had done a fabulous job of preparing the chorus for that weekend at Tanglewood. We were confident and secure in the music, and El had told us many “Lenny stories” to prepare us for whatever might come! I could write pages about that weekend, but a couple of moments stand out in my memory:
    • Rehearsing with Bernstein in the West Barn - our first exposure to him. The door was behind him, so he could not see anyone who might walk in. At one point, the door opened virtually silently, and someone from the press office of the BSO walked in with a reporter and a press photographer. Without turning to see who was there, Bernstein straightened up, struck a pose, swiped his fingers through his hair, and proceeded to spend the entire time the photographer was there striking poses; all the while rehearsing Mahler without missing a beat or paying any direct attention to the intruders!
    • That same rehearsal: Bernstein informed the chorus that it is always disruptive when the chorus stands up just before their entrance in the final movement, so we were going to do our first choral entrance (Aufehrsteh’n, ja aufehrsteh’n…) sitting down! “It must be ethereal,” he said! To do the entrance after sitting down after 4 1/2 movements of Mahler?! “We can’t do that!” We said. “You WILL do that!” He said. “But we can’t do that!” We said. Bernstein glared at us and said, “You WILL do this!” And he rehearsed us and rehearsed us until this very large chorus actually did do that first entrance as if it were coming from some distant planet; totally ethereal, floating, totally piano, yet completely clear and precise. It was a moment of considerable choral pride!
  • The performance itself was indeed memorable, and the standing ovation was loud and long and immediate. Since it was El’s “final hurrah” with the Harvard groups, we had planned a special surprise for El after the performance, back at Miss Hall’s School, where we were all staying. But that is a story for another time…