qatsi (qatsi) wrote,

"A symphony must be like the world. It must contain everything."

I was quite surprised by the length of the queue, well beyond the bottom of the steps of the Albert Hall when I arrived shortly before 3pm. Whilst there was no doubt that I would get in (it turns out I was ticket 129), the stewards were expressing concern that they might have to turn people away later - something that is actually very unusual for the Proms.

The concert was a single work - Mahler's Symphony No. 8, also known as the "Symphony of a Thousand" - apparently the first performances in Munich did literally feature over 1000 performers. To me, it's a very odd work, notable mainly for its lack of structure and balance. Yet here the programme notes were quite useful, trying to tie together its two parts - Veni, creator spiritus for Part I and Final Scene from Goethe's Faust for Part II - by drawing on both commonality and contrasts in the texts, as well as highlighting the unifying nature of the music. Perhaps it would seem more structured if one actually considers it divided into three parts, as Part II begins with a long, orchestral-only section. The tone is generally exuberant and celebratory, appropriate for the festival's opening night. The performance made good use of the Hall itself, and it was well worth being there, with the off-stage brass concluding the work from up in the gallery. Some of the performers in the boys' choir were so small they could easily have disappeared into the music scores they were carrying. The soloists' performances were fair, but unexceptional. I thought Jiří Bělohlávek seemed finally to have settled in to his role at the BBCSO, at ease conducting such large forces on this occasion.
Tags: music
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