Toward the end of his much-too-short life, Gustav Mahler completed two works filled with the sounds of leave-taking. Both Das Lied von der Erde (Song of the Earth) and the Symphony No. 9 suggest a composer coming to terms with his mortality, looking back on what had been and also peering into the mist for a sense of what would come after. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra will perform Mahler's Ninth Symphony, conducted by music director Marin Alsop, on a program that, fittingly, will be prefaced by Leonard Bernstein's Opening Prayer, a setting of the ancient text "May the Lord bless you and keep you."
Bernstein, of course, was one of Mahler's greatest champions, and the BSO's season has had a recurring Bernstein/Mahler theme. The first symphonies of these two conductor/composers were played in the fall; the pairing of Opening Prayer, written four years before Bernstein's death, and the Ninth Symphony, written two years before Mahler's, has an affecting symmetry.
Alsop, who studied conducting with Bernstein, is a fervent advocate for the music of both men, so you can count on music-making with great conviction. Add in the fact that the BSO has been playing exceptionally well lately, and this is a must-hear program of the spring season.
Performances are April 3 and 5 at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St., and April 4 at the Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda. Admission fee. Call 410-783-8000 or go to bsomusic.org.
Here's a sampling of other spring highlights in classical music:
March 29: : The Baltimore Choral Arts Society, conducted by Tom Hall, offers the local premiere of Hymn of the Universe by composer Tina Davidson on a nature-inspired program that also includes music by Haydn. Kraushaar Auditorium, Goucher College, 1021 Dulaney Valley Road, Towson. Admission fee. 410-523-7070 or baltimorechoralarts.org.
April 5: : Ian Bostridge, the British tenor with a distinctive timbre and exquisite musical taste, is one of today's leading interpreters of Schubert songs. His all-Schubert recital with pianist Julius Drake will be presented by the Shriver Hall Concert Series, 3400 N. Charles St. Admission fee. 410-516-7164 or shriverconcerts.org.
April 6: : Washington Performing Arts Society presents the high-octane Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, conducted by the inspiring Gustavo Dudamel, in a program of Ravel and Stravinsky at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St. N.W., Washington. Tickets are scarcer than snowflakes in August, but try anyway. Admission fee. 202-785-9727 or wpas.org.
April 19: : The bicentennial of Mendelssohn's birth will be celebrated by Pro Musica Rara with his Octet, a lyrical feast for strings performed on period instruments by some of the ensemble's best players, who will also dig into some Bach. Towson University's Center for the Arts, Osler and Cross Campus drives. Admission fee. 410-728-2820 or promusicarara.org.
April 30: : Exceptional mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter will join violinist Daniel Hope and pianist Bengt Forsberg for a poignant program of music by composers who were interned at Theresienstadt, a holding ground for Auschwitz. Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda. Admission fee. 301-581-5100, strathmore.org.
May 1-9: : The demise of the Baltimore Opera Company makes the city's smaller operatic ensembles more valuable than ever. A case in point is Opera Vivente, which presents a new production of Britten's gentle comedy Albert Herring, starring tenor Adam Caughey. Emmanuel Episcopal Church, 801 Cathedral St. Admission fee. 410-547-7997 or operavivente.org.
May 3: : The fine Handel Choir of Baltimore and its orchestra of period instruments, conducted by Melinda O'Neal, will mark the 200th anniversary of Haydn's death with a performance of his compelling Mass in Time of War. Towson United Methodist Church, 501 Hampton Lane. Admission fee. 800-838-3006 or handelchoir.org.
May 6: : Mobtown Modern, the cooler-than-cool new music group, presents an ear-bending program of works by Edgard Varese and Frank Zappa, not to mention a piece by Alvin Lucier "for enormously amplified brain waves and percussion." Contemporary Museum, 100 W. Centre St. Admission fee. 410-783-5720 or mobtownmodern.com.
Chamber Music by Candlelight, May 3:
Chamber Music by Candlelight is a valued series that features Baltimore Symphony players in a wide-ranging repertoire. This program includes works by Schumann, Brahms and BSO percussionist Brian Prechtl. Second Presbyterian Church, 4200 St. Paul St. Free. 443-759-3309 or communityconcertsatsecond.org.