Symphonic thousand

normanlebrecht

The Israel Symphony Orchestra Rishon Lezion will perform Mahler’s gargantuan Symphony No. 8 with Noam Sheriff conducting.

Mahler’s work is one of the most voluminous compositions ever written.

Due to its size and the number of performers, it was dubbed The Symphony of a Thousand. In addition to the orchestral musicians, the gala concert will feature around 300 singers, including a children’s choir and a large choir from Zagreb, Croatia, and several soloists. The latter include German soprano Regine Hangler, Polish mezzo-soprano Agnieszka Rehlis, British baritone David Wakeham and Russian- born bass Denis Sedov.

The concerts will be preceded by a panel discussion moderated by Norman Lebrecht, (Pictured),one of the world’s most well-known music journalists and writers. He will also deliver a lecture in Hebrew entitled “Why Mahler?” “I lived in Israel between 1964 and 1972 with a one-year gap,” says Lebrecht in a phone interview from his London office. “Hebrew is not the language I speak every day, so it will be a challenge,” adds the energetic 66-year-old.

Lebrecht, who in his book Who Killed Classical Music? (“Not my title,” he is quick to mention) among other pieces, described the deplorable condition of the genre, says that today he is f ar more optimistic than he was a decade ago.

“I believe that this is partly about zeitgeist,” he says. “Granted, older people are prevalent in concert halls because that is what they have been doing for their entire lives, and maybe younger people are deterred by their presence. But I see a lot of wonderful young performers who bring with them younger audiences. There is a sense of renewal. But then again, you would never know it from the old media. The recording industry does not exist anymore in the form we knew it, and newspapers and radio stations are under immense pressure to go to the lowest denominator.”

Speaking about his activities, Lebrecht stresses that he has “always rejected the term ‘music critic.’ Going to a concert at night and writing about it for the next morning has never been a part of my job. I’ve always had doubts about the validity and viability of that activity. It seemed to me that if we write about music, we have to write about it as part of human life, and that’s what I’ve always done. When I started writing about classical music in The Sunday Times years ago, I was the first to write about it outside of the arts section, which has become a ghetto, putting stories about music on the front page of the main paper. And this has always been the way I wrote about music in 12 books and in more articles than I can count. And that was the way we could engage the audience in a dialogue about music.

Leaving radio five years ago, I plunged into research of the possibilities of creating an online dialogue between the author and the audience, the consumer, which has not been attempted before. Now we have 1.2 million readers a month.

And this is classical music? The dying art? Something people don’t care about? This says that the clichés about classical music are wrong.

There are possibilities online that can help revive the whole form in live performance, and we see it in many different art forms. But it must not be left in the hands of dinosaurs,” he asserts.

Switching to the reason that brings him to Israel, Lebrecht says, “The question ‘Why Mahler?’ has been preoccupying me for more than 20 years. I even wrote two books about Mahler. The question is simple. Never in the history of music has a composer who was despised during his lifetime, rejected and nearly forgotten for half a century, returned to become the center of symphonic conversation, actually displacing Beethoven from the center. Mahler is the hot ticket, while Beethoven is just routine,” he says.

“So what is it in Mahler’s music that is contemporary and relevant to our lives in the 21st century? One of the issues that led us to his uniqueness is his Jewish identity. You cannot approach the innovations that Mahler made in music, the way he enabled us to listen to music differently, without understanding the Jewish background he came from. You cannot look at a page of Mahler without thinking of it as text and context. You can say the same about a page of Torah: that the text that is in the middle does not come to life without interpretation until it has a commentary. And the commentary and the interpretation are the essence of Mahler. This idea is so particular to the Jewish way of understanding the world, that in interpreting Mahler you cannot separate him from his Jewishness,” he says.

“I remember standing in front of the audience at Yale and showing them a page of Talmud, saying: ‘Look, here in the middle is Mahler, and everything that is around it, like Rashi, Rishonim, Aharonim, etc, is what we have to do with it.’ Because Mahler himself said, ‘Music does not exist in the notes.’ Well, those are just a few highlights of my lecture in Tel Aviv,” Lebrecht sums up.

December 10 at 8 p.m. at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center (the Opera House). December 11, 13 and 14 at 8:30 p.m. in Rishon Lezion. For reservations: (03) 948-4840 or Bravo online booking office.

The “Why Mahler” symposium takes place December 9 at 4 p.m. at the Opera House in Tel Aviv. For tickets and more information: (03) 948-4840.

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