Night of favorites

Rogue Valley Symphony takes on the "most ambitious project of the orchestra under my tenure to date," according to its conductor, Martin Majkut.

Gustav Mahler's Fourth Symphony takes center stage in RVS' next series of concerts. The orchestra will be joined by soprano Suzanne Vinnik in the last movement of this nearly hour-long piece. Another work to be included in the concerts, Bela Bartok's Dance Suite, runs nearly 20 minutes and is one of Majkut's favorites, he says in a press release.

Vinnik's solo in the last movement of the Mahler symphony expresses a child's view of heaven. The singer grew up listening to Mahler's symphonies because the composer is her father's favorite.

"The Fourth is some of the most beautiful vocal music," she says in the press release. "Mahler was an opera conductor, so he really knew how to create a mood and allow the voice to say what instruments can't."

Vinnik is first and foremost an opera singer, and she says this symphony will be an opportunity to explore a different timbre of her voice.

"I'm usually dying or involved in sordid affairs, so it will be refreshing to take on an innocent character."

Opera News has praised Vinnik for her "beautifully molded, vividly communicative phrasing."

Concerts are set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 17, in the Music Recital Hall on the Southern Oregon University campus, 1250 Siskiyou Blvd., Ashland; 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 18, in the Craterian Theater, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford; and 3 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center, 830 N.E. Ninth St., Grants Pass.

Tickets cost $33 to $50 for the Ashland show; $28 to $44 for the Medford show; and $20 to $34 for the Grants Pass show. Student tickets cost $5. Some $10 tickets will be available for the Craterian and Grants Pass shows. Call 541-552-6398 or see

Mahler's symphonies are monumental works that use large orchestras with as many as 1,000 musicians and often call for operatic soloists or symphonic choruses. His Fourth Symphony calls for a Romantic-style orchestra of about 70 musicians, but with an unusual choice of instruments: No trombones, no tuba, many extra winds and a full battery of percussion. Romanticism is an artistic, literary and intellectual movement that originated in the second half of the 18th century in Europe.

Majkut has paired this large symphony with Bartok's Dance Suite, which focuses on traditional peasant dances of central Europe and Arabia. It was written 23 years after Mahler's Symphony No. 4. Majkut juxtaposes the difference in musical language between these two geographical neighbors — Mahler's Czechoslovakia and Bartok's Hungary — over this short period of time.

"The work is full of a gritty peasant humor," Majkut says. "The jokes may be a bit on the rough side, but they ring honest and true."

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