Mahler’s 9th Symphony, the composer’s last completed work, has acquired an almost religious significance. Common opinion has it that this is a symphony about death – facing it, fighting it and finally accepting it – and there is much to support this interpretation in the music itself and the circumstances of its composition. Mahler commenced it in 1907 after receiving two psychic blows, the first being the death of his five-year-old daughter Maria Anna, the second being the diagnosis of the heart condition, which would ultimately claim him. Case closed, it would seem.
And yet, just as life makes no sense without death, death makes no sense without life, and Mahler’s 9th Symphony is teeming with life, perhaps because he now knew that his own would be prematurely cut short. It is a symphony whose musical ideas proliferate and expand like microbes. To hear them evolve, mutate and breed yet more ideas is like observing the miracle of creation itself. It is a miracle that no music lover should deny themselves the pleasure of hearing, and then returning to periodically. Mahler’s 9th tends to become a lifetime friend, as musicians know from personal experience.
“ Perhaps this is really Mahler’s 10th symphonic work, since he gave no number to his earlier symphonic song cycle Das Lied von der Erde. Nonetheless, all of the Mahler symphonies are unique and much loved, and this one being his last completed orchestral symphony is significant.
I have only ever performed this particular symphony once before, and like this time, it was the chamber music version. With a line-up of those on stage with me at ANAM, I am so looking forward to this performance. For me, this event will come straight after a concert the week before of playing Mahler’s 3rd Symphony with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, and then, when I return to Brisbane after the performance at ANAM, I will be tutoring my students as they prepare to perform Mahler’s 8th Symphony with conductor Johannes Fritzsch as part of Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University’s orchestral program. All-in-all, this will be three weeks of Mahler, which doesn’t happen often.
About my last performance of Mahler’s 9th Symphony… it was a concert at the end of a long and wonderful music festival. We were performing the chamber version of this amazingly beautiful work. It was sunset, and the light at the venue was in our eyes, which, through the large glass windows, meant the music was unreadable. As always, the end of a festival shows itself in the exhaustion and the fragility of the musicians as the constant rehearsals and performances take their toll. In this case, with the sun making the music impossible to read, and frustrations growing, we abandoned the final rehearsal and all sought quite solace, disappearing separately, and knowing we had just an hour until we would be back on stage. The concert was moving and serene. Perhaps we were on edge, knowing we had forgone an important rehearsal. The audience had no idea of the difficulties we had faced just an hour earlier. The sun had now set, and the day was at a close. We were able to make Mahler 9 come to life in a venue enshrouded in the darkness and atmosphere that encapsulated the peace, the terror, the love and the greatness of Gustav Mahler’s final symphonic work.”
Virginia Taylor ANAM Flute Faculty
“Mahler 9 is my favourite Mahler Symphony. I love how he reverses the traditional structure of his earlier symphonies and places the slower, more emotionally expressive movements at the outer ends of the symphony. He also reverts to a more conservatively sized orchestra which gives the music more intimacy. Of course, brass, and horns especially, feature with regularity in all of his symphonies and it is exciting to have a composer push the limits of this group of instruments technically as he so often does. In Mahler 9, more than any of the others, he pushes the horns to express emotionally in these outer movements which makes it extremely satisfying to explore as a musician. Mahler’s superstition of the curse of the 9th symphony meaning the end of the creators’ life (as in Beethoven, Bruckner, Schubert) caused him to interject Das Lied von der Erde after the completion of his 8th Symphony. This may have given him false hope that he had cheated the curse and explain the serenity he seems to find in the last movement. Alas for us all he was wrong and he died during the writing of his 10th symphony.”
Saul Lewis ANAM Head of Brass, Horn Faculty
“Mahler 9 is one of the most complex and involved, yet most delicate pieces of music I know. I discover new hidden moments of genius all the time – it is an endless treasure chest of melodic gems. That all subsides though into one of the most exquisite movements of all time, the recognition by Mahler of the fragility of the mortal world. Simply breathtaking… can you tell that Mahler 9 is one of my Desert Island Discs?!”
Sophie Rowell ANAM Violin Faculty
ANAM presents Mahler’s 9th in the brilliant chamber version by German conductor Klaus Simon, who preserves the work’s grandeur but also maximises its intimacy. This will be an absorbing evening!
Words by ANAM Faculty and Phillip Lambert, ANAM Library
MAHLER 9: FOR CHAMBER ORCHESTRA
Thu 29 Nov 2018, 7.30PM
MAHLER (arr. K SIMON) Symphony no. 9 (for chamber orchestra)
Virginia Taylor flute
Nick Deutsch oboe
Philip Arkinstall clarinet
Ashley Smith bass clarinet
Lyndon Watts bassoon
Andrew Bain horn
Saul Lewis horn
Shane Hooton trumpet
Timothy Young piano
John Arcaro percussion
James Crabb piano accordion
Sophie Rowell violin
Robin Wilson violin
Caroline Henbest viola
Howard Penny cello
Phoebe Russell double bass
Matthew Coorey conductor
Duration: approx. 1 hour 20 minutes (no interval)
Please note: This performance has been relocated to Iwaki Auditorium, ABC Southbank Centre
Full $60 / Senior $47 / Concession $35
anam.com.au / 03 9645 7911
This performance is generously supported by John and Rosemary Macleod
Timothy Young’s ANAM position is generously supported by Margaret Johnson
Caroline Henbest’s ANAM position is generously supported by Robert Peck AM and Yvonne von Hartel AM, peckvonhartel architects
The position of ANAM Artistic Director (Nick Deutsch) is generously supported by Janet Holmes à Court AC