Mahler’s Sixth

Daniel Harding and the Vienna Philharmonic, Albert Hall, September 2017.

Friday morning: persistent rain, ditto hangover and the hinges on the freezer door have broken. Consolation: good for garden, hangover acquired most pleasurably, no food in freezer.

I only went to four Proms this season. (It would have been five if my guest for a lunchtime Prom had gone to the right venue at the right time.) The last night of the Proms for me was on Thursday and it was the best: Mahler’s Sixth with Daniel Harding conducting the Vienna Philharmonic. Last time I heard this piece was at the Royal College of Music and Robert reminded me that I made a disobliging comment about one of the percussionists, a remark that I will not repeat and feel ashamed of.

The Vienna Philharmonic turned out in force: forty-four violins, seventeen violas, fourteen cellos, a dozen double basses,  five clarinets, half a dozen flutes, oboes and bassoons, five clarinets, ten horns, six trumpets, four trombones, two tubas, two harps and six percussion. The Albert Hall is just the place for music on such a grand scale, don’t attempt it at home.

When it was first performed in 1906 the variety of percussion instruments inspired this cartoon.

“My God, I forgot the motor-horn! Ah well, now I have an excuse for writing another symphony.”

There were drums, cow bells, something corrugated, a xylophone, a triangle, a huge hammer and probably more. You will have to listen to Radio 3 to hear the triangle, it was inaudible in the Albert Hall. Curiously the timpanists are listed under Percussion. As you know the timpan is an instrument in that it needs to be tuned. We were reminded of this when they appeared to fall asleep on their instruments. They were tuning them.

I switched from being host at the Albert Hall to guest at the Polish Club. It was, as people say, “rammed” but we were given a quietish table outside on the terrace. Because of the crowd the food service was lento. The wine arrived allegro, hence this morning’s hangover, but what better way to conclude the season?

If you want to listen to Mahler, Claudio Abbado is your man but I just want to give you a taster under the baton of Valery Gergiev. I went to a Prom when he was conducting and there was a most unusual feature. He had two armed bodyguards on the stairs leading to the stage. They were not Mahler fans and were provided with dinky velvet cushions so they could sit comfortably on the steps. It wasn’t long before they were both asleep. Note that Daniel Harding is a team player, wears the same kit as the orchestra and took the applause standing beside them, not on his podium. As I remember VG was prepared to risk snipers’ bullets, preening himself on the podium in his Mao coat.

One thought on “Mahler’s Sixth”

  1. I lucked out on good seats to hear Daniel Harding conduct Mahler’s Fourth with the Parisians in their new hall. I only required one seat but was with companion. It, he and they were all tremendously moving.

    Then there’s this, and the others.

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