Friday, 17 September 2010

Getting Mahlered

I wandered over to Brummidge last night for a performance of Mahler's 8th Symphony, with the CBSO, the CBSO Chorus, CBSO Youth Chorus, CBSO Children's Chorus (the only ones who sang from memory) and the Hallé Choir, conducted by Andris Nelsons, their hotshot star. The solo singers were Marina Shaguch, Erin Wall, Carolyn SampsonKatarina Karnéus Mihoko Fujimura Sergei SemishkurChristopher Maltman and Stephen Gadd. 

As you can probably tell, it's a monster - a choir of several hundred, a massive orchestra supplemented by pianos, organ and all sorts of other bits and pieces. I'm not a huge fan of Mahler or his period, but the 8th is currently hailed as the greatest symphony of all, so I thought I should slip along. 

It was an astonishing experience. The hall was completely packed - I got a seat right on the top level, eyeballing the lighting rig, high enough to make me a bit queasy leaning over the rail to watch the musicians. There was a huge buzz of expectation - if you're going to perform The Big One, you've got to get it right. It's the classical experience - massive choirs and huge set pieces literally shaking the hall, but also delicate solos, moments of tenderness and calm, crescendos and tiny, quiet interludes - the soloists have to be at the top of their game, but without a brilliant choir and orchestra, it can't be done.

It was done last night, in some style. The choir spilled out into the arena. A second brass section was installed in the upper circle. Singers appeared amongst the audience - one appeared silently a few yards from me, delivered the most beautiful solo, and glided away - and the children were as convincing as the adults, despite singing in Latin and German for 85 minutes without a break. Everything was perfect - the orchestra, the choirs, the soloists. No weaknesses, no languors, everyone responding to perfection in response to a conductor they clearly loved. It's the most complete musical experience I've ever seen. 

The crowd went wild at the end. I've been to some amazing concerts, but I've never seen 1000 pensioners (mostly) express genuine ecstasy before - stamping, whistling, demanding multiple bows from the performers. I was dazed at the end, genuinely overcome not only by the sheer noise, but by the artistic ability on display. 

Here's Rattle conducting the National Youth Orchestra in the opening and closing sections. Even if you hate classical music, turn it up loud and give it a go.

No comments: