A festival dedicated to Mahler’s music would have struck the composer as odd. During his lifetime, he frequently experienced adverse reactions to his songs and symphonies. Contemporaries were shocked by the heterogeneity of the compositions, which drew inspiration from military marches and the natural sounds of the Alps as much as from the symphonic legacy of Beethoven, Brahms and Bruckner. Yet it is Mahler’s breadth of vision that makes his work so pertinent today; as the composer claimed, ‘my time will come’.
Mahler’s place in the repertoire continues to be guaranteed by the sheer number of singers, orchestras and conductors who mark their own standing through performances of his challenging and rewarding works. It is a journey that often begins with Mahler’s bucolic First Symphony, steeped in the 19th-century folkloric collection Des Knaben Wunderhorn. Continuing through the composer’s often wilful extensions of symphonic form and expression in his middle symphonies, including the gargantuan Eighth, it ends with the more fractured soundscapes of Mahler’s final works, written on the brink of modernism
The apprenticeship of such a wide-ranging symphonist was nurtured through numerous conducting posts around Europe, but one of the most crucial was in Leipzig. Between 1886 and 1888 Mahler lived in the city of Bach, Mendelssohn, the Schumanns and Wagner, a tradition to which he responded with alacrity. He conducted at the Gewandhaus – its modern-day equivalent and resident orchestra provide the core for this 2021 Festival – and at the neighbouring opera house. And it was in Leipzig that he completed his First Symphony.
As well as experiencing a range of Mahler’s works in performances by today’s leading orchestras and interpreters, this Festival tour offers an opportunity to appreciate the music in a broader cultural context. It takes in Leipzig’s excellent museums and surveys some of the visual arts to which Mahler and his contemporaries responded, as well as those movements that came to mark the end of the composer’s twilit Romanticism.
Fly at c. 11.00am from London Heathrow airport to Berlin Brandenburg (British Airways). Drive to Leipzig with time to settle into the hotel before dinner.
The first of a series of morning lectures is followed by a guided walk around the city centre, including the Marketplace and Old City Hall, Stock Exchange and the churches of St Nicholas and St Thomas (where J.S. Bach was choir master). The tour ends at the Bach Museum. Free afternoon. The Fine Arts Museum has a good collection of European Old Masters in a striking new building. Evening concert at the Gewandhaus with Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester, Daniele Gatti (cond.): Mahler, Symphony No. 10.
Leipzig, Dessau. Drive to Dessau and visit the restored Bauhaus Building (1926), designed by Walter Gropius, the movement’s founder and Alma Mahler’s second husband. View other Bauhaus buildings in Dessau, among them the Master’s Houses (Gropius). Return to Leipzig for some free time before an evening concert with Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, Valery Gergiev (cond.): Mahler, Symphony No. 4; Das Lied von der Erde.
A second walk concentrating on Leipzig’s musical heritage includes Mahler’s house, and finishes at the Bach Archive which has a good public display. Free afternoon. Evening concert with Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Daniel Harding (cond.), Thomas Hampson (baritone): Mahler, Rückert Lieder; Symphony No. 1.
Leipzig, Dresden. Drive to Dresden and visit the Zwinger: a unique Baroque confection, part pleasure palace, part arena for festivities and part museum for cherished collections. Visit the fabulously rich Old Masters Gallery, particularly strong on Italian and Netherlandish painting. The Green Vault of the Residenzschloss displays one of the world’s finest princely treasuries. No performance this evening.
Morning visit to the Mendelssohn House Museum – the composer’s last private address, and the only one of his residences that can still be visited. In the afternoon visit the Grassi Museum for a guided tour of the collection of musical instruments, one of the most important of its kind in the world. Evening concert with the Staatskapelle Dresden, Sir Antonio Pappano (cond.): Mahler, Symphony No. 7.
Morning concert with the MDR Radio Leipzig Orchestra, Markus Stenz (cond.), Chen Reiss (soprano), Sophie Harmsen (alto), Attilio Glaser (tenor), Michael Volle (baritone): Mahler, Todtenfeier; Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen; Das klagende Lied. The afternoon is free. Final dinner in the excellent restaurant in the Gewandhaus concert hall before an evening concert with Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Andris Nelsons (cond.): Mahler, Symphony No. 8.
Fly from Berlin Brandenburg to London Heathrow airport, arriving c. 3.40pm.
Writer, broadcaster and lecturer and English-language commissioning editor for the Salzburg Festival. He studied music at Keble College, Oxford and specialises in the culture of Central Europe during the last years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. As well as writing for newspapers, magazines and opera and concert programmes worldwide, Gavin has recently lectured at the National Gallery, the British Museum and Wigmore Hall. Twitter: @gavinplumley | Instagram: @gavinplumley | Website: gavinplumley.com
Price – per person
Two sharing: £3,980 or £3,850 without flights. Single occupancy: £4,610 or £4,480 without flights.
Air travel (Euro Traveller) on Lufthansa flights (Airbus A320); private coach for transfers; accommodation as described below; breakfasts, 1 lunch and 5 dinners with wine; admission to museums, etc.; all tips for waiters, drivers and local guides; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and a tour manager.
6 concert tickets (all first category, except the Vienna Philharmonic which is second category) are included.
Hotel Fürstenhof, Leipzig: the finest hotel in the city, yet not large and with the feel of a discreet private club. A converted 19th-century building, it is furnished throughout with antique furniture. Situated just outside the line of the medieval walls, the hotel is a 20-minute walk from the Gewandhaus. Single rooms are doubles for sole use.
Vehicular access is restricted in the city centre and participants are expected to walk to the concert hall. Average distance by coach per day: 57 miles.
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCDO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting.