Simone Young Conducts Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. 28 February – 2 March, 2024
Reviewed : 28 February, 2024*
A warm, balmy late summer night in Sydney. The forecourt of the Opera House is busy – some just enjoying the sights and the buzz; others hurrying on their way to one of the events on offer at The House: opera, (La Traviata) theatre (RBG), cabaret (Gatsby) … Or the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s gala opening of their 2024 season: Mahler’s Fifth Symphony with Australia’s own Simone Young conducting!
That was certainly enough to enthuse the thousands of ticket holders that will fill the Concert Hall for each performance, but they will be treated with “appetisers” as well.
Firstly, Young conducts a rhythmic acknowledgement of country composed by First Nations percussionist Adam Manning, musician, artist, educator and Conservatorium Coordinator at the University of Newcastle. This moving composition conjures the rhythmic relationship between the people and the land and echoes the “heartbeat of Ngaya Barray, Mother Earth.”
Accompanying the beat of traditional instruments, orchestra members play single notes on their instruments, until, in the final moments, the entire orchestra use clapsticks to create “synchronised harmony.”
Following this, French violinist Renaud Capuçon joins Young and the orchestra to present the Australian premiere of Le Sommeil a pris ton empreinte (Sleep retains your print), the latest work of French composer Camille Pépin.
The concerto was aired in Paris in April 2023, with Young conducting Capuçon and the Orchestre National de France. Pépin, who travelled to Sydney for this premiere, describes the piece as “a love story actually” inspired by the French poet Paul Éluard, reflecting the joys and sadnesses of his life in five movements. “It explores shifting emotions through passages of quiet reflection and emphatic bravura.”
Then came Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, written in the summers of 1901 and 1902 during his summer holidays from the Vienna Court Opera, where he was the director. During this time he met and married Alma Schindler and the symphony supposedly reflects Mahler’s personal life at that time.
The most played of his symphonies, it opens with a trumpet fanfare that introduces a funeral march and establishes the rhythm of that section of the work. Within this section are two trios which are more intense and lead into the second movement that is almost frenzied. Here the musicians – and the conductor – are forced to work to that increased pace and the more joyful tones.
It is in the third movement that Mahler becomes more dramatic and the orchestra more theatrical. This movement is often played alone and is perhaps the most recognised of Mahler’s works. Certainly this performance by the SSO shows the brilliance of his ability to draw the orchestra together in one resonating performance. Beginning with just the strings and the harp, it builds to a crescendo of glittering sound that is spellbinding in its intensity and energy. An energy that Simone Young matches with dynamic physicality and control.
This is a powerful opening to the 2024 season – but just a harbinger of things to come. The varied program will include Schuman’s Second Symphony, Arnold Schoenberg’s huge, romantic retelling of the Danish legend, Gurrelieder. Bach’s Goldberg Variations and in November Die Walküre, from Wagner’s epic four-opera Ring Cycle.
‘Twould be wise to book early! Packages are available.