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MSO: Symphony No. 10 in F sharp

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, MSO 2008 present Gustav Mahler, Symphony No. 10 in F sharp. (A performing version of Mahler's draft, prepared by Deryck Cooke in collaboration with Berthold Goldschmidt, Colin Matthews and David Matthews.)

\Music, as I have declared elsewhere, this year in this blog space, is a late appreciation for me. As I matured I began to attend and appreciate Concert going. My experience is that of a growing “lover” rather than a “knower”. In my concert going Mahler is a relatively new acquaintance. The San Francisco Orchestra under the guidance of Michael Tilson Thomas, both concert and recordings, was how I was first drawn into the Mahler spell. The extremely erudite introductory essay in the program notes by Gordon Kerry will be responsible for any knowing that I write here.

I decided when I began this blog that if I attended any “Theatre” experience I would record my attendance and experience. These “reviews” that I have written this year are my personal Diary reflections of my experiences. So, however hesitantly, here is my diary response to the Mahler Symphony.

This very large orchestra was guided through this monumental work by Conductor Mark Wigglesworth without score. I was very impressed “The Tenth Symphony was left incomplete on Mahler’s death in 1911, but Mahler had essentially completed the composition of the Adagio. …There were five folders, with the number of the movement clearly marked on each. The first two movements exist in draft full score, as does 30 bars of the central PURGATORIO. The fourth and the fifth movements exist in more or less completed short score…… In other words, the symphony exists in at least skeletal form….. Alma Mahler at first refused to publish or circulate the sketch material “for personal reasons connected to the hand written notes by Mahler to her on the score sheets. Other composers attempted to complete the work under the reluctant permission of Alma.” But the turning point came in 1959 when musicologist Deryck Cooke…. made a fair copy of the sketches and in so doing discovered that the essence of the full symphony was fully realised…. the orchestration was 80 percent that of the composer. Under the baton of Berthold Goldschmidt, Cooke’s version was broadcast in 1960″. Alma was moved by the recording and subsequently gave “Full permission to go ahead with performances in any part of the world.”

The first Australian performance of the full Symphony was given by The Sydney Symphony conducted by John Hopkins on 7 February 1970. The first Melbourne Symphony Orchestra performance was conducted by Hiroyuki Iwaki on 26 Sep 1978. The last performance of this work in Melbourne was given on 20 June 1985. So it was a rare privilege to hear it tonight.

The personal drama in Mahler’s life during the writing of this work may be reflected in the colour and moods of the movements. If art is a reflection of the artist’s experiences, I certainly am willing to project onto the score some images that are meaningful for me. Gordon Kerry in the beginning of his essay mentions the film by Ken Russell, MAHLER, and I recall vivdly some of Mr Russell’s image impressions. Together, with the live orchestra and memories of the Russell film, tonight, I was able to be enthralled with the sounds from the orchestra as my imagination engaged with the music.

The symphony is made up of five movements and it has “a symmetrical structure, where the outer movements, each around 25 minutes long, balance each other, as do the scherzos that flank the much shorter, central PURGATORIO movement.” For me the two outer movements were piercing in their emotional intensity – the contrasts of forte and piano – as theatre music, resonant in their image making power. The flute, tuba and trumpet solo magnificent in their effect.

Sitting in the Balcony section of the Hamer Concert Hall the drama of the conducting and the brilliant expanse of the orchestra at work as a fabulous organism of art was, thrilling and occupying to observe. The audience were generous in their applause for the performance.

Geoffrey Rush has accepted the role of ‘MSO Ambassador’, as a lover of orchestral music and his appreciation of the MSO as his local orchestra. Here is my contribution to Mr Rush’s Ambassadorship: this was a stupendous way to spend some time in a theatre.