Mahler’s Resurrection – AK07

Mahler Resurrection, NZSO & reinforcements, AK07, Auckland Town Hall. 9 March 2007

Wow. Bloody hell! I believe I just went to one of the very very best concerts of my life. Here in Auckland. Played by Kiwis. Tonight. I can’t believe it. Shoot me someone.

“Very, very best…why?

Reason 1 – the Piece

It was Mahler’s Resurrrection, performed by the NZSO and a cast of hundreds (200, in fact).

Reason 2 – the Show

The music was insanely well performed – it was the NZ swan song of conductor James Judd, pulling out all his considerable stops for the Big One, on the orchestra’s 60th birthday. The musicians were uniformly, magically superb.

Reason 3 – the Realisation

Dummy that I was, I hadn’t even vaguely read up on the piece, or if I had I’d forgotten. So I thought, naturally I suppose, that it was about Christ’s resurrection. It took me completely by surprise to discover as I listened… not that I really ‘listened’, I was more like sucked up into it like a giant cosmo-cerebro-musical Kansas twister…. that the music is an everybody trip through life, including the sparkle and buzz but also the scary depths. The challenge, the desolation that comes with mortality.

Then, finally, the surrender and going to God, who is somehow embodied as the Urlicht, the original light, and the agent of reincarnation.

No Jesus in sight. Rather, some very recognisable characters.


Although the music can sound as if it’s all over the place if you’re not paying attention, in fact it is perfectly, uninterruptedly episodic. In the first movement Mahler mixes bucolic infancy with the occasional flourishes of the themes he will develop later on. It is like childhood itself, fragmentary but connected, seen en large as the early life of a sometimes boy, sometimes girl.
I found I could close my eyes and see moment after moment of children’s lives, different children. In one exquisite section every string in the orchestra is playing pizzicato. Just about every section, including bass, woodwinds, violas and god knows who else has its own cadenza ending in utter pianissimo. The six double-basses tonight played as one. Every note in their cadenza was pitch and tempo perfect. Playing as softly as they possibly could in the presence of a big orchestra and a crowd of 2,000 we could hear every note.

The second movement starts with a series of folk songs, although they come out in the mind as a twirling, dancing dresses and skirts. The girls rule. Thought: Mahler used the folk songs he knew and was into. Do we have orchestral composers these days using motifs like the Ziiit-dah, da-ziiit-dah of Foxy Lady? Or the lick from Paperback Writer? Anyway suddenly with a crash and some heroic but slightly strained, ‘thinky’ chords Mahler let’s us know that the boys will take over from here. Well, for a while…

And so it went on – a revelation, a vision in every bar.

Something to tell my grandkids about.

Reason 4

The audience. Remember when you were a kid and classical music was pretentious and boring? No-one really listened to it because they liked it, for sure. It was just a way grown-ups had of pretending they were ‘classier’ than other people, not that they or their friends, believed it for a second.

Mrs Gibbs next door with the gobstopper migraine used to comment about the classical music Mum played on the radiogram. And even sometimes on the piano, though ‘Fur Elise’ was her whack. “Born on Victoria Avenue, she reckons. Lady Muck.”

Secretly, I believed Mrs Gibbs.

No-one could really like that music surely. Although at about eight I discovered Beethoven’s da-da-da-dum and slowly became a fan. But I digress. Hugely.

The thing is, when you’re young and full of juice you want to kick the slats out, body ryhthm and soul at the loudest, kick-arsiest music on the planet. That’s most people, for sure. If they think about older people at their orchestras and operas they think they’re just listening to the muzak on the tour bus to the graveyard.
Yet one of the greatest pleasures is being among the audience at a performance like this. All those white-haired ladies and the grey and white-bearded men. Tottering around, half of them past it, poor buggers.

Except it’s not so.
Sure there are always the posers, people who make loud remarks intended to display their non-membership of the hoi-polloi. But for most, they are just here for a pleasure every bit as arse-kickin and emotionally excessive and lewd as anything the Stones or the Pretty Things ever cranked out.

Getting a brain that can deal with and go all the way with a piece of music like the Resurrection usually but not always takes time and a reasonable dose of intelligence. Over time most smart people end up in the comfortable middle class so that’s what the audiences look like.

But it also helps to have faced hardships so severe you didn’t particularly want to survive but had to, which was Mahler’s lot. Or at least copped a few reasonable wallops at Hard Knocks College.

And to have developed the comfort within yourself to surrender to the music and forget everything else. As you get older, looking good and always being in control lose their appeal So you can let go of all your ‘business’ and just listen.

That’s why orchestral audiences tend to be old and white haired. Cleverish people looking for something really, really good with no ads. More excitement in the foyer than at the Stones or even David Byrne.

If you had seen the seventy-year-old-at-least couple in front of me clutching each other and sharing their total, joyful absorption in the music, and if you’d seen them leap to their feet and cheer at the end and hug each other discreetly all the while, you would know.

It has nothing to do with muzak.