Friday, November 04, 2011

'Symphony No 6' by Gustav Mahler

4 November 2011

Mahler’s 6th Symphony is a mammoth work: it lasts 80 minutes and requires an orchestra of nearly 100 players. Rather than the usual 4 French horns, there are 8 horns and the 1st horn part is fiendishly difficult. In most orchestral works, as a horn player you can expect to spend a fair amount of time counting the rests before you next come in but in Mahler 6 the 1st horn barely has more than a few seconds break in the whole piece. There are pages and pages of extremely high and loud notes, interspersed with plenty of delicate, exposed solos. When the Northampton Symphony Orchestra decided to take on the gargantuan challenge of performing the 6th Symphony it was in the knowledge that the daunting 1st horn part would be in the safe hands of our excellent principal horn player, David Lack. When it became clear that Dave was sadly going to miss the concert through illness, I was persuaded to step up to the challenge. Tackling this incredible work is a very exciting opportunity but one that I would much rather have had in different circumstances. The symphony has been dominating my life for the past 3 months. Since 7 August, apart from a week in Paris, a week in Northumberland and the occasional night away for work, I have played at least one movement of the work every day. Wary of the need to build my stamina, every Saturday and Sunday I have tried to play through all four movements without stopping. Finding 80 minutes to sit down and practice has been hard enough but the physical endurance necessary to play all the way through the symphony took some weeks to build up. Fortunately I won’t need to play every single note in the performance. It’s common practice in larger orchestral works to have an additional horn player ‘bumping’ the first horn part, ie doubling the first horn to allow the principal horn player to save himself for the solo passages, and I know I’m going to need this. I now know Mahler’s 6th Symphony intimately: it seems to be playing in my head most of the time at the moment. I like to practice by playing along with recordings and thanks to Spotify I’ve been working through heaps of different recordings (Sir Simon Rattle’s interpretation seems to be the slowest, Leonard Bernstein’s definitely the fastest, but I think my favourite is Claudio Abbado with the Berlin Philharmonic). At this Wednesday’s rehearsal we had all 9 horn players together for the first time – boy, it’s going to be loud! It’s an incredible work – passionate, playful, sentimental, brutal, triumphant and tragic, with lots of cowbells. If you are anywhere remotely within range of Northampton next Saturday, 12 November, please do join us for what promises to be an amazing concert – also including the lovely Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, played by Charlotte Skinner. Full details and tickets available from – wish me luck!

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At 11:16 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As requestedn Good Luck!


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