Conductor Asher Fisch sought to give his players some background on composer Gustav Mahler. (Chris Gonz/Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center)

Song and symphony are opposites in many ways on the spectrum between simplicity and complexity. Gustav Mahler not only composed almost exclusively in these two genres; he combined them seamlessly, transforming both by hybridizing. The young musicians of the National Orchestral Institute, at the University of Maryland, are preparing for a performance of Mahler’s third symphony on Saturday. Their guest conductor for the week, Asher Fisch, sought to give his players some background with a lecture-recital on some of the composer’s songs on Wednesday night at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center.

The distance between song and symphony is mirrored by the divide between vocalists and instrumentalists, who often know relatively little about the music their counterparts perform. Fisch presented his ideas on Mahler with authority and charm. He referred more than once to concepts the NOI orchestra had worked on in rehearsal, making connections to the simple folk style of Mahler’s poetry and that of the “Des Knaben Wunderhorn” collection, explaining how Mahler quoted from or adapted the songs in the symphonies, and analyzing some of the more striking harmonic progressions.

Sprinkled throughout the evening were beautiful performances of a dozen Mahler songs by the German mezzo-soprano Stefanie Iranyi, who will be the soloist in the group’s third symphony on Saturday. Iranyi sang with a luscious tone, meaty in the center and bottom but a little cautious toward the top, and a delectable relishing of the German texts. High points included the raucous fun of “Anthony of Padua’s Sermon to the Fish,” and the breath-stopping wonder of “Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft.”

Downey is a freelance writer.