I don’t go to classical concerts as often as I should. Perhaps that’s why the etiquette can sometimes seem incongruous. After eighty-odd minutes of convulsive energy and despair, we stumbled, dazed, to the end of Mahler’s Sixth – one of my very favourite pieces of music – at the Festival Hall.  Those famous hammer blows of Fate came crashing down, and then what? A long, long, deathly pause, as Paavo Järvi stood immobile at the podium. Then the applause began to flow. Smiles and handshakes all round as each section of the NHK Symphony Orchestra took a well-deserved bow. And yet it somehow seemed an inadequate way of ending a performance that takes you to the spiritual brink and beyond. Shouldn’t there be some other way of rounding off an experience as gruelling – and, sometimes, uplifting – as that. Or is the ritual of shaking hands and smiling simply the sensible way of allowing the emotions to settle? Maybe. But someone, somewhere, must have a better idea. I don’t have any specific suggestions on how classical concerts should be staged, although I can’t help being distracted – even though I try not to be – by the archaic dress and the over-bright lighting. Personally, I would prefer to sit in darkness as if I were at the cinema. But I assume there are good reasons why that doesn’t happen. I don’t want to give the impression I’m complaining. I’m really not. It was a totally absorbing evening. As soon as the final movement ended, I just wanted the whole thing to start again. (The Times and Arts Desk reviews are here and here, btw.) Last time I heard the piece live, the scherzo came after the andante, which may be correct (the arguments have raged for years) but just felt wrong. And the music aside, it was fascinating to watch the way Järvi responded so physically. I couldn’t help thinking of the caricature – reproduced in Norman Lebrecht’s “Mahler Remembered” – comparing Mahler to the much more sedate Richard Strauss. One man conducts, the other is possessed.

mahler strauss

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