Austrian composer and conductor Gustav Mahler once said, “A symphony must be like the world. It must contain everything.” His words ring true as the QCSO takes on Mahler’s 9th Symphony—a work that arguably contains everything–in Masterworks IV on Saturday, Feb. 2 and Sunday, Feb. 3.

Living a Life in Mahler’s 9th Symphony

 It is not an understatement to say that Gustav Mahler put his heart and soul into his symphonies. His ninth and final symphony is a prime example of this dedication, possessing highs and lows that mimic Mahler’s life.

“Mahler is a unique artistic entity. He is someone who is very much a child of his time, but also very visionary,” said QCSO Music Director and Conductor Mark Russell Smith. “First and foremost, Mahler is expressive. He wants to express the inexpressible; express those things through music that are very hard to describe otherwise.”

And Mahler had much to express. His relationship with his wife, Alma Schindler, also a talented musician and composer, was strained due to his demand that she discontinue perusing her own musical ambitions. Coupled with the loss of their daughter, Maria, from scarlet fever at just the age of four, Mahler coped by pouring himself into his work.

Soon after Maria’s death, Mahler would learn he suffered from a heart defect. His physician advised him to avoid strenuous physical activity, something difficult to do because of his work schedule and position as director of New York’s Metropolitan Opera and later the New York Philharmonic.

It’s during the summer of 1909 that Mahler began work on his ninth symphony.

“Mahler’s 9th Symphony, more than any of his others, really foreshadows the coming expressionistic style,” said QCSO Executive Director Brian Baxter.

Defining “Everything”

 Often described as “expansive” and “emotional,” Mahler’s 9th Symphony is popularly seen as an acknowledgment of his impending death—or, at least, of the significant impact death had on his life.

The piece is summarized well by Mahler’s friend and fellow composer Alban Berg. He called the symphony’s first movement, “The most wonderful that Mahler wrote. It is the expression of tremendous love for this earth, the longing to live upon it in peace, to enjoy nature to its greatest depths—before death comes. Then it does come, inexorably.”

The performance engages the entire orchestra, consisting of four movements. It is notably unusual for its time as it begins and ends slowly, only picking up intensity throughout the second and third movements, which feel lighter and more dance-like.

“To me, while it’s abstract music, he’s very reflective of all the challenges he was dealing with at that time,” Baxter said. “Mahler has an ability to carry a complete narrative over a very long form.”

“His symphonies are not short. There are many composers who write long pieces. But of these composers, Mahler is the most engaging throughout.”

 At a little over an hour in length, Mahler’s 9th Symphony can be a difficult piece to perform. But QCSO Music Director and Conductor Mark Russell Smith is more than confident in the orchestra’s ability to do it honor.

“This is a tremendously challenging program,” he said. “Playing symphonies of Mahler is difficult to do from a technical standpoint, an endurance standpoint, and a psychological investment standpoint.”

Nevertheless, Russell Smith says the audience is certain to get a lot out of the performance. “The music will directly speak to them if the audience allows it to, if they allow the music to work its magic. If you’re open to it, it’ll be transformational.”



Masterworks IV: Mahler’s 9th Symphony
February 2, 2019 | 8:00 p.m.
Adler Theatre
136 East 3rd Street | Davenport, IA

February 3, 2019 | 2:00 p.m.
Centennial Hall
3703 7th Avenue | Rock Island, IL

Purchase Tickets | $17-$64 Adults | $10-$33 Students


Mark Russell Smith, conductor


Dive Deeper into the QCSO’s 104th Season

Besides purchasing tickets to the main performance, QCSO also offers the unique opportunity to interact with the orchestra both before and after. Join us for Inside the Music, Concert Conversations, and a special Opening Night Afterglow.

Inside the Music

Due to a double Rehearsal, Inside the Music for this Masterworks Performance has been canceled.

Lunch with Mark Russell Smith 

Presented in partnership with Eastern Iowa Community College, join QCSO Music Director and Conductor Mark Russell Smith for a lunch lecture about Mahler’s 9th Symphony on Wednesday, Jan. 30 at 11:30 a.m. Registration is $22. Lunch included. Hosted at the Outing Club

Concert Conversations

One hour prior to each Masterworks performance, concertgoers are invited to attend informal pre-concert conversations to hear about the works being presented. Hosted by Kai Swanson. Sponsored by Chris Connolly, Wells Fargo Advisors.


Mingle with Maestro Mark Russell Smith, guest artists, and members of the QCSO immediately following the Saturday Masterworks performances. Free Admission. Cash Bar. Hosted at the Hotel Blackhawk


Article by
Tyler Mitchell
Freelance Writer

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