It is well understood in classical musical circles that Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, when well performed, is a transformative experience.

Portland Symphony Orchestra Music Director Robert Moody hopes to give audiences such an experience when the orchestra closes its season with performances of Mahler’s Fifth on Sunday afternoon and Tuesday evening at Merrill Auditorium.

Moody has planned for the PSO to perform this piece since he programmed the season a year ago. On the original schedule, Mahler’s Fifth was part of a larger program.

But in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings in April, Moody stripped the program of other music so the orchestra and the audience could focus their attention on this monumental piece of music.

“Music, and the thing we do with an orchestra, can be a really cathartic experience,” Moody said. “The Mahler Fifth does it as well as any piece. Mahler was a composer who spent more of his thinking time than probably any other composer pondering the largest issues of life, death, the afterlife, resurrection, the pain involved, the mourning involved and also the healing involved.”

For many years, conductors have turned to Mahler’s Fifth during troubled times. Most famously, Leonard Bernstein conducted the fourth movement of this symphony, known as the Adagietto, for Robert Kennedy’s funeral at the National Cathedral in 1968. That movement is Mahler’s best-known piece of music, and one of the most famous pieces of music ever written or performed. Portland audiences will hear all five movements of the symphony.

The marathon bombings affected many people in many ways. Moody believes it hit particularly close to home for the orchestra. Many orchestra members live in the Boston area and experienced the disruption and fear after the bombings.

In addition, the orchestra is populated by runners.

Executive Director Lisa Dixon ran the marathon last year, and was there this year in support of a runner/friend. She was at about mile marker 21 when the blasts occurred and the race was halted.

A runner himself, Moody intends to register for Boston next year as a show of solidarity for runners everywhere.

But first comes this music and its healing power.

“Our reason for performing it is that it’s the strongest thing we can say musically — which goes well beyond words — to commemorate, remember, mourn and have a healing experience for what everyone feels, probably more poignantly in New England, about the tragedy of the Boston Marathon bombings,” he said.

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

Bkeyes@pressherald.com

Twitter: pphbkeyes