Conductor Kenneth Woods Fills Big Shoes At Colorado MahlerFest

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Photo: Kenneth Woods conducting
Conductor Kenneth Woods is the new artistic director of Colorado MahlerFest.

Austrian composer and conductor Gustav Mahler wrote epic symphonies. Mahler’s pieces can last more than an hour and sometimes require hundreds of musicians.

And since 1987, musicians from around the world have traveled to Boulder each spring to play one of them at Colorado MahlerFest -- for no pay.

This year marks the start of a new era at MahlerFest. Founding conductor Robert Olson, who won international acclaim for his lifelong work to champion Mahler's music, stepped down last year.

For the first time, someone new will be on the podium at MahlerFest: conductor Kenneth Woods.

Photo: Gustav Mahler horizontal crop
Composer Gustav Mahler in 1909

Woods will conduct Mahler’s Symphony No. 7 for his MahlerFest debut on May 21 and 22. He calls it one of Mahler’s most worldly pieces, mixing scenes of nature with sonic cityscapes.

And on his blog, A View From The Podium, Woods posts satirical essays about the classical world alongside thoughtful analysis of music he performs in concert.

The funny essays -- like a recent post in which an imaginary orchestra stops performing and recording to spend more time on social media -- often get the biggest reaction, he says.

But sometimes the less popular ones resonate more deeply, especially with other musicians. Woods says aspiring conductors sometimes thank him for his more scholarly posts years after he publishes them. (Here’s one he wrote about Mahler’s Seventh Symphony and its connections to the composer's other music.)

Woods spoke with Colorado Matters host Nathan Heffel about his love of Mahler’s music, his plans for the festival and his digital presence.

Hear Woods conduct music from Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde” -- the first Mahler piece Woods remembers hearing as a child: