The Philharmonia's dress rehearsal
Michael Fuller writes: Last night was the final concert in our Mahler cycle with Lorin Maazel, and we finished it in grand fashion, with Mahler's colossal Eighth symphony. It is surely Mahler's most ambitious work, and the promoter for the premiere in 1910 coined the term 'Symphony of a Thousand' due to the massive forces involved- 8 vocal soloists, 2 mixed choirs, 1 children's choir, and an orchestra filled with almost every possible instrument you can imagine. The subject of the symphony is no less bold - divided in two parts, the first is an ecstatic hymn to the divine creative spirit, and the second portrays nothing less than the ascent of Faust's soul into heaven, the text taken from Goethe's famous work.
Needless to say, it was a fitting way to end our Mahler cycle, and the Royal Festival Hall was completely sold-out, which added an extra sense of excitement. On a night like this, there's a special kind of exhilaration you get from being in the orchestra, playing your guts out, and surrounded by the sound of legions of your colleagues doing the same at such a high level. It's really a thrilling experience, and I don't think I've ever found anything else quite like it. It's one of the reasons I love playing music.
Of course the music itself has to be great to have it mean anything, and after performing all 10 symphonies in 29 concerts since April I can say that no composer stands above Mahler right now in my little personal pantheon. His music is also very popular these days among concert-goers throughout the world, and I do occasionally wonder what the particular appeal it has in our times is. For me, beyond the fact that Mahler was a genius composer and musician, there's the persistent sense that he was a seeker, and that through his music he's constantly confronting and asking the deepest questions about his life and life as a totality. It's spiritual music without being tied to any one religion or dogma. Take the Eighth symphony for example - he somehow combines a 9th-century Christian Hymn with the last scene of Faust, the great 19th-century romantic work. Some may disagree, but I find that those two seemingly disparate texts are woven into a very convincing unity through the power of his composing.
After the concert we had a reception in the Festival Hall, and Maestro Maazel said a few words which I will try to paraphrase - he particularly thanked the orchestra and said that one special quality that the Philharmonia has as a group is that there is never a hint of routine music-making, there is always a great commitment to make every concert extraordinary, and that he can really sense our love for the music. I have to say that I wholeheartedly agree, and I think it's that quality that distinguishes this orchestra. It made me move across the world to join them, and I feel very fortunate to be a part of it. It's that same quality that Maestro Maazel brings to his performances and why we would leap at the opportunity to do a great undertaking like this with him. So I'd to say a huge thank you to Maestro Maazel and to my colleagues in the Philharmonia for all the constant inspiration throughout this adventure!
Finally, before signing off, I'd like to say thanks to my partner-in-crime for this blog, Simon Oliver for his eloquent and heartfelt words, it was a great pleasure to collaborate on this with you...Cheers!