To most concertgoers, the name “Mahler” in a program indicates a long sit. But not so for the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s concert Sunday afternoon at the Granada Theatre. In between two early Schubert symphonies, Michelle DeYoung will join the orchestra for Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer, a set that wraps up in less than 20 minutes.
But that doesn’t mean the work’s scope — or for that matter, its impact — is small. “Just within these four songs, he takes you through every emotion of life,” the mezzo-soprano said in a telephone interview from her Colorado home.” It starts with the trauma of losing someone and takes you through the entire journey” from despair to acceptance.
DeYoung has sung a lot of Mahler over the years. “I would say my approach to his music has changed as I have grown,” she said. “It can change that day, quite frankly. I’m an in-the-moment kind of singer. I find that keeps the music alive.
And then, of course, there is the influence of the conductor — in this case, L.A. Phil Music Director Gustavo Dudamel. “He’s one of my favorite people to work with,” she said. “I feel he gets the best out of singers. He never says, ‘It has to be this way.’ It’s a real collaboration. That’s definitely not always the case with conductors.”
Another maestro DeYoung has worked with frequently is Michael Tilson Thomas, and one particular collaboration of theirs illustrates how meaningful she finds Mahler’s music. He had asked her to perform and record the composer’s Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children) with his San Francisco Symphony in September 2001 — a gig she had to turn down because she was committed to appearing in a French opera production.
Then came the 9/11 attacks. With all flights grounded, she couldn’t get to Europe, and the European singer the symphony had hired couldn’t get to California. So DeYoung drove from Denver to San Francisco and performed the piece after all.
“It was really healing for all of us,” she recalled. “People would start crying in the middle of rehearsals. We ended up winning Grammy Awards for that recording, which was wonderful because it meant so much. Mahler can be quite cathartic.”
CAMA presents the Los Angeles Philharmonic Sunday, May 7, 4 p.m., at the Granada Theatre (1214 State St.). Tickets are $39-$104. Call (805) 899-2222 or see camasb.org.