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Smithsonian Chamber Music Society Nominated for Grammy

December 16, 2007

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History is pleased to announce that the Smithsonian Chamber Players, together with the Santa Fe Pro Musica, and conductor Kenneth Slowik have been nominated for a GRAMMY Award for Best Small Ensemble Performance (Field 30 - Classical, Category 105) for their recording, “Mahler: Das Lied Von Der Erde” (The Song of Earth). Published in July 2007 by Dorian Recordings (DOR-90322), this album also features Irish tenor John Elwes and Canadian baritone Russell Braun. The winners of the 50th annual Grammy Awards will be announced Feb. 10, 2008.

Inspired by traumatic events in his life, Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) compiled text that expresses themes at once deeply personal and universal. Set to hauntingly beautiful music, this composition explores the vast complexities of life and death, from Zen-like reconciliation to powerful visions of nature.

Mahler originally conceived this work for a full orchestra; in this recording, it is presented in a chamber orchestra arrangement begun in 1921 by Arnold Schönberg and completed by composer and conductor Rainer Riehn in 1983.

The instrumental ensemble for this recording derives much of its distinctive sound from its employment of a quartet of 17th-century Cremonese stringed instruments by Nicolo Amati from the Smithsonian’s collection, strung in gut as they were in Mahler’s day. Shaping the entire 68-minute performance is the Smithsonian Chamber Music Society’s artistic director Kenneth Slowik—better known, perhaps, as a cellist but equally a scholar who has devoted a decade to the exploration of early 20th-century orchestral performance practice. Slowik’s poignant handling of these wrenching songs of farewell is substantially assisted by his flexible molding of the melodic line in response to Mahler’s inflections of the text, a technique he developed through close study of the heavily annotated scores of Dutch conductor Willem Mengelberg, who worked closely with Mahler during the last decade of the composer’s life.

The Smithsonian Chamber Players is one of four resident ensembles at the National Museum of American History, the only museum in the world with an active, long-term program of using its instruments as they were intended by their makers—for live musical performances. Since its inception in 1976, the society has presented nearly 30 concerts each season, and their work has reached hundreds of thousands of listeners through an extensive program of recordings, broadcasts and tours across America and in more than a dozen international settings. A broad range of additional activity drawing on this rich heritage includes publications, scholarly research, and educational outreach to students from kindergarten through college. For more information, please visit

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The National Museum of American History collects, preserves and displays American heritage in the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific and military history. Documenting the American experience from Colonial times to the present, the museum looks at growth and change in the United States. The museum is closed for major renovations. For information about the museum, please visit or call Smithsonian Information at (202) 633-1000, (202) 633-5285 (TTY).