29 September 2011

Michael Fuller writes: After kicking off our London concert season on Sunday, we're ready to dig in to the final concerts of our Mahler cycle with Maestro Maazel. It was good to see the Maestro on the podium again last night in rehearsal after our marathon patch of work this past Spring. We played a rocking Mahler 6 concert in Turin, Italy, in early September, but besides that we haven't worked together since May. So it was great to get back to business with Maestro Maazel and always special to hear the Philharmonia play Mahler's music, even in a first reading!

These concerts are going to be distinctive because they focus on the symphonies that Mahler wrote in the last few years of his life. There's no doubt that Mahler's late style took a different direction from his previous work. There's a very special tone to these pieces, especially the two we play tonight, Das Lied Von der Erde and the unfinished 10th Symphony. The diagnosis in 1907 of a grave heart condition and the death of his eldest daughter definitely had Mahler preoccupied with the reality of death and the idea of an ultimate farewell to the world. He wrote 'Das Lied' in that summer of 1907 and said it was "probably the most personal [composition] I have created thus far." Also, his wife Alma said that Mahler didn't dare call Das Lied Von der Erde a symphony because he was extremely superstitious that "no great symphonic writer was to live beyond his Ninth" (both Beethoven and Bruckner didn't make it past their Ninth symphony). But a symphony it is, in breadth and scope if not in name, and I think it represents a turning point for Mahler to the world he inhabits in his final works. And as for the Tenth Symphony, sure enough Mahler only fully completed the first movement before his death in 1911, and that's what we'll play in the first half of the programme tonight. It's a transcendent piece of music, and you almost get the feeling that he is already rising above everything in this world as he penned his last notes.