April 6th. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra are performing Mahler’s 9th Symphony under their Music Director, Daniel Barenboim. A reception has been arranged after the performance.
I have not seen Barenboim conduct before, nor heard a performance of Mahler’s Ninth, live that is. I certainly had not appreciated the use of the orchestra where you can hear so many unusual combinations of instruments and strange effects. It’s clearly familiar territory as Mahler with Viennese waltzes or military bands breaking through. Full orchestra is pretty impenetrable, well it is for me. All it does is make the constant noise in my left ear louder. The closing pages had to be heard to be believed in the sustained hushed string playing. The movement of people around me was noisy in contrast. The huge audience were clearly caught up in this and there was not a single interruption.
After the concert we assemble in the foyer for the reception. Mike Whitby, Leader of the Council is there as is Cllr Jim Whorwood returning to office as Deputy Mayor. Stephen Maddox, General Manager of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and its Chief Conductor Sakari Oramo are in attendance. Phil Murphy, my long time councillor colleague, now Hon. Alderman, joined me. He has been bowled over by Mahler’s Ninth for a long time. During our trip to Palestine last year he was listening to a CD on his Walkman. He tells me he presented Barbirolli’s CD in Guinea later that year!
By the time Daniel Barenboim joined us we had shared our feelings about the evening. Mike Nangle, our Lord Mayor, made a speech, brief but to the point, appreciating his continuing efforts for peace in Israel/Palestine. Mike said he was all too familiar with conflict from his upbringing in Northern Ireland so he recognised the significance of this. As for the performance the Lord Mayor praised the Chicago orchestra and Barenboim’s controlled direction. In response Daniel Barenboim said that in a work like Mahler’s Ninth the audience has an important part to play in the never ending pianissimo conclusion. A single cough can break the spellbinding effect. He praised the Birmingham audience and Symphony Hall for contributing to it.
In conversation Mr Barenboim said that the players were arguing on the coach about the respective merits of Birmingham and Manchester concert halls. The Bridgwater Hall in Manchester and Symphony Hall were better than anything in London. The younger players asked why they had to go to Birmingham and Manchester when they were used to cities like Vienna or London. When they saw the halls and how the cities had developed they had begun to change their views.
Phil Murphy and I told him that we had visited Palestine and Israel in January, 2004 and that we had met President Arafat in Ramallah. He was interested to know where we had been. When we mentioned that we had met with Yael Dayan along with other Tel Aviv Councillors, he felt that she was indeed a remarkable lady. (She had expressed to us the view that Israel had the power and should take a lead in the quest for peace).
In conversation with Mike Whitby we said that Birmingham had the opportunity to show its support for the people of Palestine and Israel, as we had done when South Africa was an apartheid state and Birmingham had twinned with Johannesburg. Now we need to build links with Ramallah in Palestine together with an Israeli town such as Tel Aviv.