Paul Mauffray, a devoted reader, has sent us this account of a slightly too close encounter with Mahler’s 4th symphony in the Vienna Musikverein last night:

I spent a wonderful day in Vienna today attending two concerts in the
Musikvereinsaal, and for both concerts I had one of the few seats
offered to the public on the stage.
The first concert was with Lorin Maazel conducting Sibelius Symphonies
7, 5, & 1 with the Vienna Philharmonic. I was seated right behind the
horns and next to the bass section. The earth moved, but in a warm,
rich, and sumptuously rewarding way!

After such a wonderful afternoon experience, I was especially happy to
have the same seat for the evening performance of Mahler’s 4th
Symphony by the Niederösterreich Tonkünstler-Orchester. This time,
however, it was the percussion section that was positioned next to me.
My first thought was “Oh my God! I can not imagine what it will be
like to be seated this close to the timpani for a Mahler Symphony!”.
I was already filled with great anticipation just watching the
timpanist manually tune the calf-skin heads, but I could never have
expected even from Mahler what would come next. …

My attention had been focused on reading the parts of the Harp and
Cellos who were seated right in front of me and who were of course
playing exquisitely. Then shortly after rehearsal number 15 in the
first movement, my attention was drawn to a small storm brewing by the
timpanist. Luckily, I turned to look just in time to see a figurative
earth shattering climax, but literally a timpani ripping climax! At
the fortississimo (yes, that means 3 times forte, or “fff”) climax of
the timpani roll on a low G, the head of the timpani ripped and I saw
the stick come out of the timpanist’s hand and go right through the
head! I have never even heard of this happening anywhere before!

I was worried about how this might effect the rest of the performance
or if we would have to miss out on some important upcoming timpani
notes. After all, this was only the middle of the first movement and
there was plenty more to come. Luckily, this timpanist saved the day
by re-tuning the lower timpani to replace that tone. This was
especially clear at the biggest climax in the third movement where the
player is asked to strike that same G fortississimo with both sticks!
Luckily, no one in the orchestra, not even the conductor, seemed to
notice that anything unusual had happened, but at least I have photos
to prove my testimony to a truly unforgettable Mahler 4th!

1 How to crash an orchestra

2 Magnificent diva dies

3  The conductor who got too Candide

4 The tennis champion who’s hooked on Beethoven

5 Dudamel wins a Grammy – but you can’t buy it anywhere


She never threw a tantrum, never courted the media, never did anything but sing and act to the very best of her considerable abilities.

Elizabeth Connell, who died yesterday, was the consummate opera professional, at the highest level. She was the kind of singer you can build a house on. And she never lost her sense of fun.

May she rest in peace.

It’s City of Venice: How Venice Ruled the Seas.

Read on here on Open Letters Monthly.

And don’t miss Jessica Miller’s thoughtful essay on romantic fiction.


Caracas, Gustavo Dudamel:

Elizabeth Connell, a leading soprano at the Royal Opera House in the 1970s and 1980s, has died in London after a short illness.

A hugely popular colleague, she sang Isolde and other major roles with innate modesty and distinction.

South Africa born and London based for most of her career, she gave her last performance less than three months ago. Elizabeth will be mourned worldwide. Our sympathies go out to her family and many friends.

(More tributes here). And a beautiful memorial website.

Here is a full biography:

Elizabeth Connell is acclaimed for her performances of the great Strauss, Verdi and Wagner heroines.

Following her debut at Wexford Opera Festival in 1972, she sang at the opening of the Sydney Opera House in Prokofiev’s War and Peace in 1973, and has continued to have a special relationship with Opera Australia ever since.  Following a five-year association with English National Opera, she has been a freelance artist with the major opera houses.

She has appeared at the opera houses of London, Paris, Vienna, Berlin, Munich, Hamburg, New York (Metropolitan Opera), San Francisco, Milan (La Scala), Naples and Geneva in a wide repertoire and at the Bayreuth, Salzburg, Orange, Verona and Glyndebourne Festivals. Connell has had a successful collaboration with conductors such as Abbado, Muti, Sinopoli, Giulini, Sawallisch, Mackerras, Downes, Sir Colin Davis, Maazel, Levine, Ozawa and Elder.

In concert, her performances have included Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony andMissa Solemnis and Mahler’s Eighth Symphony with conductors such as Abbado, Giulini, Maazel, Sinopoli and Boulez. In recital, she has appeared with Geoffrey Parsons, Graham Johnson, Eugene Asti and Lamar Crowsen in Milan, Geneva, Sydney, Johannesburg and at the Wigmore Hall.

Engagements in recent seasons include Kostelnicka in Janacek’s Jenufa, Ortrud in Wagner’s Lohengrin, Bellini’s Norma, Abigaille in Verdi’s Nabucco and Ariadne in Strauss‘ Ariadne auf Naxos for Opera Australia; Ortrud, Beethoven’s Fidelio and Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde at Staatsoper Berlin, Isolde in Hamburg, Senta in Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer in Hamburg and Berlin and Strauss‘ Elektra in Berlin, Madrid, Bordeaux and Montreal as well as the Färberin in a new production of Strauss‘ Die Frau ohne Schatten in Frankfurt and at the Deutsche Oper Berlin.

Most recently, she sang Elektra in Las Palmas, Gertrude (Humperdinck‘s Hänsel und Gretel) for the Royal Opera (with worldwide Telecast and DVD release) and concerts of Jenufa with the London Symphony and Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestras under Daniel Harding as well as Fidelio with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

In December 2008, Elizabeth Connell had a triumphant success at the opening night of Puccini’s Turandot at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, her most recent role added to her repertoire, which for the past two seasons she has also sung in Hamburg and before that for Opera Australia.

In May and June 2010, she sang in a new production of Tristan und Isolde at the State Opera Prague, conducted by Jan Latham-König.

Her 2010 performances also included Elektra in Auckland as well as a solo recital in London St John’s Smith Square.

In February 2011, she returned to Prague for Turandot. 

In October 2011, Connell took part in an an opera gala at the Bad Urach Festival, where she will be singing arias and scenes from Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor, Verdi’s Otello and Macbeth. The concert was broadcast by SWR 2 Radio.

In 2012, she was due to make her debut with the Opéra de Toulon as Ortrud in a new production of Lohengrin and to return to Melbourne as Turandot, however she has been prevented by illness to do so. 

Her final performance was a recital on 27 November 2011 in Hastings, UK.

This, fittingly, was the last song she delivered in public.

This is the Shrine performance in LA, before they flew to Caracas and went huge.

Gustav Mahler Symphony No. 8, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra., Gustavo Dudamel, conductor, numerous soloists and choirs at Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, CA, USA. Unofficial Blackberry Torch video clip taken 04 Feb 2012, between 8:159:45 PM PST.

This is one of the last works he recorded, in 1961. The youtube upload is of the historic Vienna concert he gave in January 1938.

So many readers have been asking about Joseph R. Olefirowicz’s scintillating performance of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide that we thought you’d like to see both sides of the coin. This, as shown yesterday, is what the musicians saw.

And here’s how it came about. It started, I’m told, as a joke by the stage manager using the call cam, an innocent little infrared unit nestled between violas and a row of woodwinds, for lighting call cues and two conductor monitors for the soloists.

The conductor, knowing this was the only number in 2.5 hours in one meter, and one tempo, let the orchestra off the leash as a mark of mutual trust. Every single cue of his related to specific comments within rehearsals.

Now, having watched the internal frolics, here’s what the public saw.

Terrific cast, lovely performance. What’s not to like

Leon Fleisher  is one of the best-known sufferers from this neurological disorder.  He describes how it pushed him to the brink (start at 3:50)

It was his mother’s birthday, and he was in Rotterdam. They were playing the Beethoven violin concerto, a family favourite.

Roger Federer was not going to miss it. Nor were the players going to miss him. Here he is, coming backstage with Rotterdam Philharmonic managing director Hans Waege (left)

And here he is mingling with the players while his Mum (right) strides ahead.

Thanks to Leonike at the Rotterdam Phil for the snaps.

UPDATE: This, I hear, is no one-off. Here’s Roger tipping his hat to the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.