Image shows a black teacup, a yellow notebook and pen sitting in front of a program outlining the QPAC Hamburg Conversation Series

My complete lack of connection to classical music and symphony meant that I had no idea how much of a big deal the performances of Mahler’s Resurrection and Wagner’s Das Rheingold were until the final in the Sunday Conversations Series that have led up to the Hamburg International Series.

The third of the Conversations Series, with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s Director of Artistic Planning, Richard Wenn and Choir Master Emily Cox was very enjoyable. Their combined passion for Mahler, and Emily’s excitement about both the piece and this particular performance was infectious. I listened to Emily speak about her own personal connection with Mahler’s work, about the artistry, the aesthetic, the meaning of the Resurrection symphony and I could feel how her excitement parallels how I myself have always felt about contemporary theatre.

“devastatingly powerful”

“spiritual”

“inspired”

“light”

Or my favourite,

“[Mahler’s Resurrection] has major tingle factor. You’d have to be a marble statue not to be blown away by the end of this!”

How could anyone listen to such a statement and NOT feel excited about the performance ahead!

But first, please, some narrative…

I am a person of ‘human context’. It is the story behind things, the people, their personalities and experiences that ignite my imagination and fire my need for a performing art fix. In that respect it makes sense that theatre, narrative and character are what draw me into a performance. And perhaps why classical music has always sat on the ‘outside’ of my personal artistic preferences.

Did you know who Mahler was?

And that he worked in a hut. A hut!

That he demanded absolute silence and his family would shoo away birds, take the bells off the cows, doing all that they could to satisfy his need for peace?

It is this visual picture, this human context that excites me. In my mind’s eye I see him sitting at a dark wooden desk, with a window right in front of him but one that he doesn’t appear to notice. His eyes buried in the paper, seeing only the white and ink in front of him. His mind filled with a symphony (literally, a symphony!) of complex, challenging, sometimes dark and intense sounds.

I so thoroughly enjoyed hearing about how Mahler wrote. I so enjoyed the subsequent revelations in my own mind about Mahler’s individual artistry. It is one that I had never really imagined could occur in such traditional, classical music. I guess because my mind has lumped all classical music into one, fairly uninteresting (to me) genre, I haven’t considered how the form itself would have evolved through artistic risk-takers, through the avant-garde, through those who wrote, performed, thought, and created in a way that no-one before them had either the idea, or simply the courage to do.

There is certainly a lot more that now frames the way I hope I will hear classical music. The Conversations Series has certainly given me a deeper understanding with which to receive the performance of Mahler’s Resurrection with the Hamburg Philharmonic Orchestra. In a sense I wish I could attend the actual performance on Friday night, but nonetheless I am terribly excited to hear the work in its entirety at the final rehearsal on Wednesday night.

I can’t wait to hear all that was playing inside Mahler’s mind, as he sat in that silent, little hut.

Conversations Series #3: The Narrative Journey of Classical Music

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