This post is a little bit different as it returns to my music roots, but stick with it because there’s an important life point…
In 2008 or 2009 the famed Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, arguably one of the top orchestras in the world, launched a live concert streaming platform called the Digital Concert Hall. The platform was the first of its type, streaming nearly all the orchestra’s annual concerts live to subscribers anywhere and available in the archive later. At the time, the orchestra’s chief conductor was Simon Rattle, my personal favorite orchestral conductor. While interested in the initiative, since at the time I was an orchestra administrator, I did not immediately subscribe. Then a curious thing happened…
In the classical music world, the composer Gustav Mahler was one of the last great Romantic era geniuses whose music was not fully appreciated until the 1960s. In 2010-2011, an unusual confluence of events occurred: the 150th anniversary of Mahler’s 1860 birth and the 100th anniversary of his 1911 death. To commemorate, many orchestras worldwide programmed complete cycles of Mahler’s symphonies in one or both of those seasons. Rattle and the Berlin Phil followed suit.
Mahler wrote nine symphonies before he died (technically nearly 11, but you can Google that if it interests you). They are massive works, each lasting over an hour, and each emotionally wringing. To traverse them in one day is an emotional onslaught that seems to anticipate everything that happened in music and society after 1911. To traverse them in one or two seasons is a huge, nearly impossible, feat of technical and interpretative skills (and budget!) for even the best orchestras. Being a huge fan of Mahler, Rattle, and Berlin’s orchestra, I decided to subscribe to enjoy these performances. And then an unexpectedly special and near perfect event happened ten years ago this week.
Shortly after becoming chief conductor in Berlin in 2002, Rattle led the orchestra on a tour of several Asian countries. At the time, an explosion of appreciation for western classical music was sweeping those countries, and the Berlin Phil was one of the most popular ensembles. During the tour, the orchestra was greeted concert after concert by tens of thousands (yes, for classical music) of fans who watched simulcasts of the concerts not in the hall, but outside in various public gathering spaces. The orchestra and Rattle immediately knew they had to find a way to bring their concerts to this audience more frequently. Since orchestra tours are expensive, the Digital Concert Hall was born.
Upon completing the Mahler symphony cycle in November 2011, the orchestra again toured Asia, this time bringing Mahler’s last completed symphony (No. 9), which features his hesitant farewell to the world after being diagnosed with a terminal heart issue. The final movement, nearly thirty minutes in length, contains one of the most intense, surging, passionate five-minute periods for mostly the string sections of any orchestral work. The Berlin Phil’s famed string section, built from a rich Bass section up, played it magnificently in the Berlin broadcast. So, I was thrilled to learn that they would stream the Asian Tour performance a week later. Sadly, it was scheduled for 5:00am in my time zone, so I arose early in the morning to enjoy the performance. It was a cold November day in Texas with the holidays approaching the next week. The performance exceeded the one in Berlin because of the orchestra’s passion for sharing the music with their throngs of fans in Asia.
As I look back on the subsequent ten years, I’ve watched the archived version of this performance more than anything else in the Digital Concert Hall. In fact, I have probably listened to this performance more than any other classical performance or recording in that entire ten-year period. I can never forget the emotion that came over me to hear and feel the passion of that orchestra playing a piece written by a composer who knew he’d be dead soon at 51. As I said, it seems to predict the subsequent chaos of two world wars and so many other societal challenges post-1911. And on that November 2011 night, Rattle and the Berlin Phil musicians nailed it in an indescribable way.
Passion is nothing without execution. Execution is soulless without passion. The two are essential for true success in work, life, anything. Arguably the world’s best orchestra conveying with the most personal enthusiasm one of the most personal pieces of music ever written to an adoring audience at just the right season of the year proved to be the perfect combination of passion and execution. I’ll never forget the feelings, and yet, I can’t quite articulate it. That’s the way passion and execution perfectly combined always seems to work. It’s just…magic.
If you wish to subscribe to the Digital Concert Hall for a few days to watch this performance, here is the direct link. Perhaps it will bring you a decade of unique memories, too.
Thank you for reading.
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