Back to Posts

Guest Conductor Herbig to Lead Symphonic Masterpiece With RPO

Rochester, NY – One of the greatest and eerily prophetic symphonic works of the early 20th century will be performed by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra under distinguished guest conductor Günther Herbig on Thursday, March 5 and Saturday, March 7 at 8:00 pm at the Eastman Theatre with special $15 tickets.  The performance of Gustav Mahler’s Sixth Symphony, subtitled “Tragic,” is a special occasion, says Music Director Christopher Seaman.  “Nobody is better qualified or equipped to perform this tragic masterpiece than Maestro Herbig, raised in the best German tradition and immensely experienced in this challenging repertoire.”

Günther Herbig’s conducting talents came to be known in the West only when the political situation in East Germany had begun to change.  In Germany, he was one of only a few students chosen for intensive study with Herbert von Karajan with whom he worked for two years.  After music director posts with the Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra and the Berlin Symphony, Herbig made his musical move to Western Europe in 1979, when he was invited to be the principal guest conductor of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra.  He moved permanently to the United States in 1984.  In addition to serving as music director of the Detroit and Toronto symphonies, he has guest conducted most of the major American and European orchestras, touring Japan, South America and Australia many times.  Maestro Herbig has recorded more than 100 works both with East German orchestras and several of the London orchestras, the BBC Philharmonic, and others.  A recent career highlight took place at the 2001 Edinburgh Festival, when he was invited to duplicate a program from 1808 in Vienna when Beethoven presented and conducted his “Pastoral” Symphony.

With a wonderful ear for sound and color, Mahler utilized numerous additional instruments in the winds, brass, and percussion, and the result is a sound few composers ever have matched.  Although composed during one of most idyllic period in Mahler’s life, this symphony – enormous both in length and in powerful emotional content – was immensely prophetic.  The first three movements offer a balance of the positive and the negative.  A soaring first movement theme – ostensibly representing Mahler’s wife, Alma – is followed by a peaceful interlude colored by the sound of cowbells; a bitter second movement represents childish voices turned tragic; and a serene, gorgeously melodious third-movement lullaby climaxes in a searing outpouring of emotion.

The fourth and final movement perhaps is described best by Alma Mahler in her memoirs: “In the last movement, he describes himself and his downfall; or, as he later said: ‘It is the hero, on whom fall three blows of fate, the last of which fells him as a tree is felled.’  On him, too, fell three blows of fate, and the last felled him.”  The references are to the events of 1907: the death of their older daughter, Mahler’s loss of his position as Vienna State Opera music director, and the diagnosis of his life-threatening case of heart disease.  Audiences will find the actual hammer blows hard to miss; the composer’s intent was a sound “like an axe stroke.”

All tickets are available online 24/7 at, by phone (454-2100), in-person from the RPO Box Office, and seven days a week at area Wegmans.  A convenience fee may apply.  RPO Box Office Hours are Monday-Saturday, 10:00 am-5:00 pm (non-concert Saturdays, 10:00 am-3:00 pm). 

The Philharmonics Series is sponsored by the Eastman Kodak Company and Bausch & Lomb.  The RPO gratefully acknowledges PAETEC Communications Inc. for the PAETEC Philharmonic Partners program, which offers discounted $9 Philharmonics Series tickets to local students. 

Celebrating its 86th season in 2008-09, the RPO inspires and enriches the community through the art of music, presenting nearly 200 performances each season to a combined audience of an estimated quarter of a million people, including more than 70,000 who experience the RPO’s broad range of educational and community programs.  The Orchestra is passionately dedicated to outstanding musical performance at the highest artistic levels, and has a unique tradition of musical versatility, commitment to music education in the broadest sense and a deep and enduring engagement with the community.  The RPO has been honored with the New York State Governor’s Arts Award and two recent ASCAP awards for adventurous programming.  RPO performances are made possible in part with grants from the National Endowment for the Arts; the New York State Council on the Arts, a State Agency; the State of New York; Monroe County and the City of Rochester.