Do you think one concert can change the world? We do. 

The Johnstown Symphony Orchestra is celebrating our 90th anniversary with the biggest piece of music we have every performed – Mahler’s epic and life-changing “Second Symphony” – on Saturday, May 11.

People are driving from across the country to hear us perform this piece. Our musicians have been preparing for this for months. This is our Mount Everest. This is our Super Bowl.

If there is only one concert that you attend in your entire life, this should be the one. The only way to fully understand that statement is to hear this piece performed live, but I will try to describe it in words.

Mahler’s “Second Symphony” is the largest piece of music this orchestra has ever performed, with more than 250 musicians, including 10 trumpets and 10 French horns. 

The piece is subtitled the “Resurrection Symphony,” but it’s important to note that its message is not only meaningful to Christians – although, performed just weeks after Easter, this will surely resonate with our Christian audience members. The music is also deeply rooted in Mahler’s own Jewish faith and upbringing. And for members of other faith traditions, or those who belong to no faith tradition at all, its themes and message are truly universal. 

At its essence, this is a piece about overcoming a great struggle, defeating internal doubt and emerging with new life and new energy. 

But the piece is not just personal – it is also universal. It is not only earth-shaking in its loudest climaxes – it is also intimate and gentle, and passionate and tender. It is music that we can all relate to, and be inspired by.

We chose to perform this piece because Mahler is the perfect Johnstown composer. He was born in Bohemia and grew up with a strong sense of that Eastern European culture, but moved to Budapest and then Vienna before living in the United States toward the end of his life.

The experience of leaving his homeland – something that almost all residents of Johnstown have in their recent family histories – and of his struggle to find his own identity amid his cultural heritage and the countries where he moved is a strong part of his life. 

He had to define himself in a really American way – by the integrity of his work, not his cultural background. By his work ethic, and by his belief in the power of the music he performed, he single-handedly transformed the orchestras he conducted.

But he is also a perfect Johnstown composer because his music is a combination of so many themes and cultures, just as this city is a combination of so many cultures and ideas and industries. 

He said of his symphonies that they should “contain the world,” and so you experience in this one piece the most devastating loss and the most exultant joy, the uncertainty of doubt and the reassurance of unconditional love.

It is a journey that we take together, audience and orchestra and chorus and two internationally recognized soloists – and yes, your conductor, as well.

I have to tell you that I’ve been dreaming of this concert since I became your music director. My only fear, my only worry, is that you will miss the chance to be a part of this once-in-a-lifetime concert. We will very likely never perform something quite this big ever again, or at least not until we turn 100!

To honor our history, we are bringing the orchestra back to Cochran Auditorium, where we used to perform, and we have invited former conductors of the symphony and our elected representatives to join us for this momentous occasion.

The concert happens to be just weeks before the 130th anniversary of the Johnstown Flood, and the idea of “rising again” is surely appropriate to what Johnstown has done, over and over again, when faced with difficulty and calamity.

If you have been waiting to hear this orchestra your whole life, this is the time to come for the first time. I guarantee that if you come to this concert, your life will be changed.

We all believe that this music, as performed by your superb professional orchestra and chorus, will help to bring new life to this city and to all of us who love it.

James Blachly is the music director for the Johnstown Symphony Orchestra. He can be reached at 814-535-6738. Connect with him on Twitter @BlachlyJames.