19 April 2011

Mike Fuller writes: It's the hottest day of the year so far in London, brilliant sunshine, bright blue skies, just a perfect day. What could be better then playing Mahler's Sixth Symphony, possibly his darkest, most tortured work! Ok, so maybe the weather and today's concert isn't a perfect match, but once the concert starts, we're hoping to create the right atmosphere so the audience can take in this powerful piece. It's interesting that Simon mentioned how familiar this work is to him... for me, this is the one Mahler symphony that I haven't performed before. Christian, one of my colleagues in the bass section, advised me that the best way to warm up for the last movement would be to lift weights for about an hour! After pounding on my bass for about 80 minutes tonight, I think I should have taken his advice!

This music has a relentless drive to it, all the way from the brutal march rhythms of the first movement to the final blows of the fourth movement that crush Mahler's hero. With the Sixth, Mahler has turned the romantic ideal of the hero on its head. That's one of the things that I like so much about his music though, is Mahler's willingness to look unflinchingly at the dark side of life and human nature. We repeat this program on Thursday in Basingstoke, and then revisit it in May on tour in Luxembourg and Paris.

Simon Oliver writes: Tonight, it's the Sixth Symphony.

After a mind-blowing 'Resurrection' Symphony, I was reflecting on how these works must have sounded at their first rehearsal, especially the Sixth, as it has a prominent part for cow bells of all things! It's hard for me to think back and remember how a symphony that is now so familiar to me sounded many years ago when I first experienced it. This got me thinking about Mahler rehearsing this symphony for the first time and how his orchestra reacted to his music and to him.

I found this quote on the Sixth Symphony's first rehearsal, conducted by the composer:

'During one of the rehearsals for the last movement he stopped the orchestra and called out to the trumpets, 'Can't you play that louder?' In the empty hall it already sounded like an unbridled din; were the trumpets to be even louder? He stopped a second time and turned to the trumpets again, this time with a gesture of the left hand whose commanding force was irresistible: 'Can you not play that even louder?!' They played louder still, now drowning the whole orchestra, and what had previously sounded like mere noise now took on the musical meaning which the noise had concealed.'

I can honestly say to you that Maestro Maazel has this same commanding force at the helm of the Philharmonia.

Tonight's performance will have even louder trumpets and some hammer blows that will knock you off your Royal Festival Hall seat!