Daily Bow: Honoring Mahler the Right Way


Last week we ran a piece on the 100 year commemoration of composer Gustav Mahler’s death. A very accomplished conductor, violinist, and composer is showing his appreciation and respect for Mahler’s work in perhaps the most complete way possible.

Gustav Mahler died 100 years ago this week and his work is being celebrated in concerts all over the world. Lorin Maazel – born less than 20 years after Mahler’s death – first encountered his music in the early 1950s just as it was beginning its slow journey to the heart of the mainstream repertoire. “And it’s been quite a relationship ever since…”

Maazel, now 81, is currently in the middle of an ambitious cycle of Mahler’s work with the Philharmonia Orchestra that takes in the 10 symphonies as well as many other works across 25 concerts stretched over six months. Next week he will conduct the seventh symphony at the Royal Festival Hall in London before concerts in Gateshead and Hull. The cycle concludes in the autumn with three more London concerts. Maazel was principal conductor of the Philharmonia during the 1970s and gave his first Mahler symphony cycle with the orchestra – “although back then we did it in two weeks.” Since then he has completed Mahler cycles with three of the great world orchestras with which he has been associated: the Vienna Philharmonic, Bavarian Radio orchestra and the New York Philharmonic. This fifth cycle has provoked predictably strong opinions. “The word ‘brilliance’ doesn’t do it justice,” said one critic of the performance of the third symphony, “here was a degree of precision and bright colouration beyond mortal ken.” Yet critic and Mahler expert Norman Lebrecht declared the opening piece of the series, “Songs of a Wayfarer”, “as awful as it gets. The conductor, for reasons perverse or exhibitionist, reduced the . . . songs to half the prescribed tempo, draining them of sense and beauty.”

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