Mahler for amateurs is no bad idea

Mahler for amateurs is no bad idea


norman lebrecht

May 09, 2011

I wish to could go to hear the Kensington Symphony Orchestra player Mahler’s fourth tomorrow night, but I’m down for a theatre premiere.

The KSO defines itself as an amateur orchestra. In fact, it contains lots of conservatory graduates, music-biz professionals, journalists, PRs and generally civilised chaps and chapettes. The word from rehearsal is that Mahler 4 went really well. The soloist is Katharine Watson, the conductor Russell Keable, and the other item on the programme is Lutoslawski Chantefleurs et Chantefables. Wish I could be there. Booking details here.


  • Louis says:

    I, unfortunately, have bad memories of Mahler. One of my very first classical concerts was watching Bedfordshire Youth Orchestra perform Mahler’s First Symphony. At just over an hour long, with no interval, and a summer’s heat that made everybody too warm, it was like being dropped in at the deep end. Mahler’s compositions are so heavy, that when its’ depth and weight is mixed with extreme length and unbearable heat, it makes for a nightmare concert as an introduction to Classical Music. Suffice to say, that I am, to this day, afraid of Mahler symphonies in case all of the memories of Mahler 1, come flooding back and bring on a panic attack. Word of wisdom to newbies: Do NOT watch a Mahler symphony as one of your first classical concert experiences.

    I must say however, that it’s great that amateur (and youth) orchestras are playing Mahler as I think due to his composing style, it truly makes the musicians give it their all, and it demands their full attention. One can’t half-heart Mahler!

    • Paul Ricchi says:

      I am always puzzled as to what “heavy” means when it is applied to music: Notot “Popsy” enough? One can’t dance to it? Pregnant with meaning? Difficult?

      I think the sense is both pejorative and dismissive. Of course that may not be the intent here.

  • Jo Johnson says:

    Thanks for the plug Norman! It really did go rather well in rehearsal yesterday and Katherine Watson is wonderful. Pity you can’t come… it’s not to late to swing a sickie with the theatre people! 😉

  • As long recognized by Bernard Shaw, amateur & professional labels are of very little use when it comes to the measurement of musical performance quality & achievement.

  • c says:

    Some of Mahler’s compositions are indubitably heavy- not this one though.

  • Laurence Glavin says:

    When I was a teenager, I went to some Boston Symphony concerts that were performed at Sanders Theater in Cambridge, Mass because the ticket prices were lower than at Symphony Hall, and parking was easier (that has changed since) than in the Back Bay/downtown Boston area. On occasion, I attended concerts regardless of what was being played because just about all of symphonic classical music was new to me. Ooops…on one program, they performed Bruckner’s symphony #7, and I was definitely NOT ready for it. I didn’t immediately write Bruckner off my list, but figured the problem might be with me, not the composer. On the radio, I heard the same composer’s Fourth symphony, and liked it. Compared to Bruckner, Mahler (often, but not necessarily justly compared to him) is a bit more accessible, except for his “darkest” pieces, which the First Symphony is not. So to the previous post about a bad experience with the Mahler 1st…try again, live or via recordings or radio. Oh…and Michael Tilson thomas will be discussing Mahler on his PBS telecasts in June. Watch them.