Robert Spano conducts Mahler's Symphony No. 3 in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra's 2021-22 season finale. (credit: Jeff Roffman)

ASO gives Robert Spano a grand and heartfelt farewell with Mahler’s Symphony No. 3

Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
June 9, 11 & 12, 2022
Atlanta Symphony Hall, Woodruff Arts Center
Atlanta, Georgia – USA

Robert Spano, conductor; Kelley O’Connor, mezzo-soprano; Women of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus (Norman Mackenzie, director); Georgia Boychoir (David R. White, director).
Gustav MAHLER: Symphony No. 3

Mark Gresham | 10 JUN 2022

This week’s performances of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and allied forces proved a fitting capstone for Robert Spano’s two-decade tenure as the orchestra’s music director.

Thursday’s concert, which opened the celebratory trio of performances, which includes a Saturday night and Sunday matinee reprises, marks only the third time in the ASO’s history that it has programmed the 105-minute work, which the orchestra presented without intermission. The first was in 1984, led by Robert Shaw. Spano first conducted it with the ASO in 2010, close to what would be halfway through his time as music director.

The orchestra was greatly expanded with guest musicians in the ranks to meet the work’s colossal orchestration requirements. That included inviting Spano-era colleagues, such as former ASO principal percussionist Thomas Sherwood (who has been a percussionist with the Cleveland Orchestra since 2015), to participate in the maestro’s grand farewell concerts.

Most prominent among them was the guest soloist, mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor, a frequent collaborator with Spano over the past two decades, not only on the Symphony Hall stage and in ASO recordings but together elsewhere, including recitals with Spano as pianist.

Mezzo-soprano Kelley O'Connor sings in Mahler's Symphony No. 3, with Robert Spano and the ASO. (credit: Jeff Roffman)

Mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor sings in Mahler’s Symphony No. 3, with Robert Spano and the ASO. (credit: Jeff Roffman)

Also involved in the Mahler Third were women of the ASO Chorus (directed by the ASO’s Norman Mackenzie) and a small contingent from the Georgia Boy Choir (directed by David R. White).

Originally, Spano’s final concert as ASO music director was to have taken place last June, and officially it did, as he was given a title change to “co-artistic advisor” for the 2021-22 season. But let’s face it: despite the absent title, he has acted de facto as a music director.

That concert, presented while the ASO was still under pandemic conditions and restrictions, was unfortunately only virtual, videoed at Symphony Hall with a masked Robert Spano on the podium, a much small contingent of masked musicians in the orchestra, and an unmasked soprano Jessica Rivera as guest soloist. The program was Samuel Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915 Op. 24 and another Mahler symphony, the Symphony No. 4 in G major.

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Mahler to Mahler, one could ironically call this week’s season closer Spano’s “Second and Final Farewell Concert.” But it was a splendid final farewell tribute, performed ardently and enthusiastically by all the musical forces involved, who put all their heart and soul into a work that attempts to emotionally embrace all the world between its first and final notes. It was a memorable experience.

Although Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 was a great choice to take a final distilled measure of his wide-ranging tenure in Atlanta, it’s hardly the end of the career for Spano, who turned 61 this past May 7. This fall, he begins a new phase as music director of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. And Spano’s connection to the ASO is hardly severed, as he takes on a new role of “music director laureate” — which he prefers to “emeritus,” a term he says just makes a person “sound old.” Spano will return to the ASO podium in his “laureate” capacity after a year’s absence, a standard protocol, as Nathalie Stutzmann takes over as the orchestra’s fifth music director this fall.

Spano will hardly be inactive: In addition to the new post in Fort Worth, he continues as artistic director of the Aspen Music Festival and School, which runs from June 30 through August 21 this summer, where he will conduct Festival Orchestra concerts on July 3, 15, 31, and August 21. he will also be guest conducting at places like Houston Grand Opera (Massenet’s Werther, February 4, 8, and 10, 2023). No doubt Spano will be composing as well. And most certainly looking forward to other new musical adventures.

The ASO will repeat this program Saturday, June 11, at 8:00pm and on Sunday, June 12 at 3:00pm, both at Atlanta Symphony Hall.


Mark Gresham

Mark Gresham is publisher and principal writer of EarRelevant. he began writing as a music journalist over 30 years ago, but has been a composer of music much longer than that. He was the winner of an ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award for music journalism in 2003.