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Originally published Friday, July 18, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Mahler festival will end with a grand flourish

The Northwest Mahler Festival concludes with a big, big concert, featuring soprano Catherine Haight.

Special to The Seattle Times

Classical-music preview

Northwest Mahler Festival

Performing Mahler's Ninth Symphony, selections from Wagner's "Das Rheingold" and "Die Götterdämmerung" and Strauss' "Four Last Songs," conducted by Eric Hanson, with Catherine Haight, soprano, 7 p.m. Sunday, Meany Hall at the University of Washington, Seattle; $17-$23 (800-838-3006 or www.brownpapertickets.com).

Only weeks after the Seattle Symphony concluded its regular season with the massive Mahler Sixth Symphony, it's time for the Northwest Mahler Festival, and a performance of Mahler's even more massive Ninth.

The festival is about more than just the upcoming performance Sunday at Meany Hall, however. It's an exercise in inclusion, with musicians ranging from high-school students to professionals (some of them Seattle Symphony members), as well as plenty of musical people with other day jobs.

Now in its 14th year, the festival includes rich experiences for all levels of musician before the public concert. There have been four "readings" by the orchestra through different works, with different guest conductors. Not all the readings have been works by Mahler; some have been by other composers from around the same period who also wrote for very large orchestras. This year's readings included two Mahler symphonies (Nos. 1 and 5) but also symphonies by Sibelius and Shostakovich.

The big concert itself will be conducted this year by Eric Hanson, who is probably the foremost Mahler expert in Seattle. The author of "Mahler and the Will," he's the guy the Seattle Symphony turns to when they need advice on the composer, and he gave the preconcert lecture at the Symphony's final concert.

Part of that lecture included the musical overlap between Mahler and Richard Wagner, whose work is also featured on this program. Excerpts from two of the "Ring" operas should give people a tantalizing foretaste of next summer's complete cycle.

One of the great delights is bound to be the voice of soprano Catherine Haight. Long known for her work as a soloist with Orchestra Seattle, Seattle Chamber Singers and Pacific Northwest Ballet, she is also one of the most solid musicians in the Northwest. Her performance of Richard Strauss' "Four Last Songs" is something to look forward to.

It wouldn't be a Mahler festival if the orchestra weren't huge. The size of this one ranges from 110 to 140 instrumentalists. There's something joyful for both the musicians and the audience when that much musical energy is stirred up in a wonderful acoustical space.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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