[2010114] Mahler 8: Symphony of a Thousand

Mahler 8: Symphony of a Thousand

Adelaide Symphony Orchestra (cond. Arvo Volmer) and the Adelaide Festival Chorus @ Adelaide Entertainment Centre

8:00pm, Sat 13 Mar 2010

(Be warned: this one’s going to be a bit sentimental. And, if the sentimentality works for you, then you’ll hate the ending.)

My Dad… well, he’s getting on a bit. And, whilst I didn’t really felt like I got on that well with him when I was a kid, I’m cherishing the stuff that we share now – even if it’s an argument over the validity of modern music (or, as he likes to call it, “howler monkeys”) or political inclinations (he’s paid his taxes, so he’s conservative now). And, back in 2009, I noticed that the State Opera Company were putting on a production of The Flying Dutchman – so I bought us tickets and insisted he come down from our familial home in the Mid-North to attend.

Now – my Dad is a proud Australian… but he emigrated from Germany in his early twenties. And, as a German, he has some fundamental passion for Wagner in his blood – it runs deeper than anything I could possibly fathom. It almost appears to be a blind loyalty at times; Dad used to make the pilgrimage to Adelaide any time The Ring was on with one of his old German friends (now, sadly, passed away), and they would drink deeply from each cycle of The Ring and recharge their – I don’t know, their German-ness? – whether it be a “good” production or “bad”. I remember talking to Dad after one particular production, where he lamented that an angst-ridden river of blood was presented using a single red handkerchief fluttering to the stage floor… he loved the story (as always), gleaned his dose of Wagner from it, but hated the show.


The Flying Dutchman was a delight. Of course, Dad grumped about the use of lasers and such (which I thought was quite clever), but he was genuinely moved by it. As I shuffled him into a cab to head back to our friend’s place where he was staying, he was genuinely red-eyed… and thankful. It was a really moving moment, I thought, which we celebrated by saying nothing.

Moving on…

The Festival’s flagship production of Mahler 8 was pre-announced very early; some months before the Festival Programme was released, if I recall correctly. There had been a few little hints of things prior to the announcement – Friends of the Festival were invited to dress in black and attend a publicity photo-shoot involving Paul Grabowsky and the ASO much earlier in 2009 (I’m way down the back, somewhere in the middle). Tickets went on sale very early for Mahler 8; I, of course, chose to leave my ticket purchases until the last possible moment. So, I rang Dad: “Dad – the Festival is doing some Mahler with the ASO. It’s performed once in a blue moon. Make plans to come to Adelaide.”

We wound up getting B-Reserve tickets – it was the best I could manage at such late notice. Way up high on the right-hand side. We got there in plenty of time – with his arthritis and artificial hip, I wanted to take things slowly, not put any pressure on him. Programme in hand, we get to our seats… and the view is tremendous. The “stage” is massive, supporting not only the ASO (and the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra) but also the Festival Chorus, which numbered a lazy four hundred. Give or take.

And when conductor Arvo Volmer briskly took to his podium (to appreciative applause, naturally) and lifted his baton, there was a slight pause… and then a wall of noise.

The chorus, alone, created a formidable soundwave; the orchestras merely provided texture beneath. It was, truly, a spectacular moment for the ears… even Dad, with his dodgy hearing, felt it.

As for the rest of Mahler 8… well, I don’t know what to say. I remember looking from my perch upon the sea of people performing this music, and not knowing what to think. I was undoubtedly tired; I sat back and closed my eyes and let the sound wash over me and tried to figure out how to comprehend it, how to understand it, but soon realised that I couldn’t. So I just opened my ears and my head and tried to absorb it. And then, when it was over, I – along with the rest of the Entertainment Centre – applauded long and hard.

The pace picked up a bit as we left – there was a chance I could make a 9:30pm show in town. We scooted as quickly as Dad could hobble to the defined pickup point, and my brother arrived on cue for the first time I can remember. We tried to talk about the performance as he drove, but both Dad and I struggled to get any meaningful words out… and the few times we did get on a roll, my nephew interrupted to talk about Pokémon.

As I jumped out of the car and ran to my next show, I knew there was a squillion-and-one things I wanted to talk to Dad about… but they had to wait until the next week, for our usual catch-up phone call. But it wasn’t quite the same; I couldn’t see the happiness in his eyes.

But I could hear it in his voice.

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