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Brevard Music Center welcomes Mahler specialist Susan Platts for its season-ending concert

Susan Platts is making her third appearance at the Brevard Music Center summer festival
courtesy of Susan Platts
Susan Platts is making her third appearance at the Brevard Music Center summer festival

BPR Classic is broadcasting the season finale of Brevard Music Center’s summer festival. That concert and our broadcast are 3pm this Sunday. The concert features vocalist Susan Platts in a performance of Gustav Mahler’s Third Symphony. BPR arts producer Matt Peiken spoke with the mezzo-soprano earlier this week and began by asking why she became known, particularly, as a Mahler specialist.

Susan Platts: It was a kind of organic introduction to Mahler. One of my first orchestral jobs that I got offered was Mahler’s Second Symphony. I was just drawn in. I felt, for me, that even though I was still relatively young, it addressed the happiness and hopefulness in music and life and the struggles, the realities of life that we all have to face. And even though I was young, there was something that made me feel it, it just spoke to my soul. And I think I've been lucky in that there's a quality in my voice that just kind of, I think, works well for Mahler. There’s definitely a deep love within my soul for his music and how he wrote.

Matt Peiken: When you're talking about how he wrote, are you speaking in terms of what you're singing lyrically or is there something in his compositional phrasing that communicates to you on a sort of visceral, emotional level?

Susan Platts: Yes and yes. He knew how to write really well for the voice, but there's something about his music that I feel is real to us. All it speaks to me when I sing his music. When I hear his music, I feel like I have a flood of emotions of everything that's happened in my life so far and an imagination of emotions that might be, you know, ahead of me. And however many years I have left, it really gets to my heart.

Matt Peiken: You mentioned Mahler’s Second. Talk about his Third Symphony, which is what you'll be singing in Brevard. I imagine you've performed this probably more times than you can count. What is your history with that piece? How has it evolved for you in terms of what the piece means to you?

Susan Platts: That's a wonderful thing with Mahler’s music, that as we age, it ages with us. And if we have 10 more years of life behind us, you just hear 10 more years of those happy and sad emotions. There's so much more to take from it. The Third Symphony, I have performed a lot, not as much as the Second Symphony, and I actually performed it at Brevard a number of years ago. This is my second time coming back to Brevard to perform the Third Symphony. I'm in the fourth movement and the fifth movement and the total singing I have is only about 12 minutes. So it's minimal when the alto movement comes along—everything sort of seems to stop time, seems to stand still. And it's a very powerful movement in that it almost goes down to nothing. And there's this sense of wanting to draw the audience into you instead of having this sort of bombastic tale to tell. There's a word in German called innerly. And it's very inner, it's this feeling of man paying attention that, you know, this person has awoken from this deep dream. There's pain and there's suffering, but the overriding thing at the end is that joy is greater than the pain.

Matt Peiken: Do you ever get time to enjoy the area while you’re here? You know, we have a lot of people come to this area just for the outdoors, or is it, are you in and you go to the hall, you do your work and then you're you leave?

Susan Platts: I have a lot of downtime, but there's a beautiful lake there. And so I'll have my morning coffee and I'll sit up by the lake. The area, it's beautiful. It's a really special part of the world.

Matt Peiken, BPR’s first full-time arts journalist, has spent his entire career covering arts and culture.