- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 31, 2004

In 1988, a buzz rippled through the classical music world when a new recording of Gustav Mahler’s monumental 2nd Symphony (“Resurrection”) promptly turned into a best seller. It helped, of course, that the always classy London Symphony Orchestra and chorus performed the work.

However, they were conducted by an amateur, the wealthy American business publisher Gilbert Kaplan. To this day, the “Resurrection Symphony” is the only work he conducts.

Mr. Kaplan will make the first of three appearances with the National Symphony Orchestra and the Cathedral Choral Society this evening as he presents Mahler’s masterwork in the Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall. These performances will mark the first time Washingtonians will have a chance to experience the revisions Mahler made to the score near the end of his life — changes Mr. Kaplan uncovered after extensive research.

Mahler’s 2nd is a vast musical canvas of life and death concluding with a cosmic resurrection in which the entirety of humanity is transfigured.

One of the things that impresses Mr. Kaplan about the 2nd is its overarching sense of human feeling. “There’s no escaping the power of this symphony,” he says. “People in the audience find themselves in tears, and they don’t know why. It gets under their skin in a way they can’t prevent.”

Mr. Kaplan notes that for Mahler, resurrection “is a process, almost like the Chinese word for it, which also means ‘self-renewal.’”

Now 63, Gilbert Kaplan never planned to be a musician. The New York City native studied piano as a youngster, but he admits to being an indifferent student. Instead, he studied economics at the New School University in New York and Duke University in North Carolina, graduating in 1964 with a bachelor’s degree in economics.

In 1965, he founded Institutional Investor, bringing out his first issue in 1967. In the then button-down world of Wall Street finance, Institutional Investor’s one-two punch of hard-hitting journalism and innovative layout was an instant hit. “We were profitable within four issues,” he says. The publication helped him become a multimillionaire.

Other forces were at work, however. Mr. Kaplan attended a 1965 Carnegie Hall concert that featured Mahler’s “Resurrection Symphony” conducted by Leopold Stokowski. He was blown away, and a lifelong obsession was born.

Mr. Kaplan avidly pursued every bit of information he could dig up on the symphony. In the early 1980s, he realized he had an overwhelming desire to conduct the work.

He hired a tutor and took a crash course in score reading and conducting. Then, in 1982, he booked the American Symphony Orchestra into New York’s Lincoln Center, where he himself led a performance of the work for friends and invited guests to commemorate Institutional Investor’s 15th anniversary. The concert was a success, and a legend was born.

The American Symphony Orchestra invited him back to conduct the work in 1983. Orchestras around the world followed suit. (The NSO will be the 52nd ensemble he has conducted.) Mr. Kaplan sold Institutional Investor in the mid-1980s, retiring from the operation in the early 1990s to found the Kaplan Foundation, a nonprofit organization devoted to Mahler scholarship.

Mahler left little in his vast score to chance, frequently re-editing it even after the symphony was first performed in 1895. “He was always attempting to get just the right color, the right way of expressing an idea,” Mr. Kaplan says. In addition, Mahler frequently wrote detailed instructions in his scores. “Mahler never trusted conductors,” he says, “and that’s why he wrote so many instructions.”

He recently learned that Mahler left behind a corrected score near the time of his death. With the assistance of musicologist Renata Stark-Voit, he has just completed a new critical edition of the score that restores what he believes were the composer’s final intentions. It is slated for fall publication.

Deutsche Grammophon has released a new recording of the work with the Vienna Philharmonic, conducted by Mr. Kaplan and largely incorporating those changes. Most of the changes will be included in this week’s NSO performances.

Still, Mr. Kaplan doesn’t view himself as part of the conducting profession. Mahler’s 2nd has been a fulfilling lifetime passion for him.

“It would be great fun to conduct other things,” he says, “but I just don’t do it.”

WHO: The National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Gilbert Kaplan

WHAT: Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (“Resurrection”)

WHEN: Tonight at 7; tomorrow at 1:30 p.m.; and Saturday at 8 p.m.

WHERE: Kennedy Center Concert Hall

TICKETS: $42 to $75

PHONE: 202/467-4600

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