Michael Tanner

Inspired by Mahler

The Bamberg Symphony Orchestra will be giving the concluding two concerts of this year’s Edinburgh International Festival under its chief conductor Jonathan Nott.

The Bamberg Symphony Orchestra will be giving the concluding two concerts of this year’s Edinburgh International Festival under its chief conductor Jonathan Nott.

The Bamberg Symphony Orchestra will be giving the concluding two concerts of this year’s Edinburgh International Festival under its chief conductor Jonathan Nott. The programmes aren’t what you might expect from one of Germany’s leading orchestras, but then very little is typical about the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra. It will be performing Messiaen, Bartók and Ravel.  

A few weeks ago I went to watch the orchestra rehearsing in its home concert hall, and moved on with it to Baden-Baden where it gave a performance in the Festspielhaus of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony (the once so-called ‘Symphony of a Thousand’). The reasons I accepted the invitation were heterogeneous: the purely musical one is that Mahler 8 has long been a work I detest. So, since whenever it is performed it draws full houses and prolonged applause — as at the beginning of last year’s Proms — I felt I should try to get into closer contact with it, by attending rehearsals, especially purely orchestral ones where I could follow what was going on beneath, as it were, the distractions of a team of soloists and choirs scattered round the hall. Another reason, of a different kind, is that Bamberg is one of my favourite cities. No doubt a lot of Germany used to look like this, but the RAF and USAF did a pretty comprehensive job on most of it, while unaccountably leaving Bamberg unscathed.

Bamberg’s concert hall was built in 1993, and is very much of its time, with wilful asymmetries in its interior, but with superb acoustics. I went to a series of rehearsals there over a couple of days, during which the orchestra worked its way through the symphony, and I must say I enjoyed hearing it that way much more than I ever have listening to the complete, exhaustingly would-be exalted piece.

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