Programme Guide

The high expectations after the three-year collaboration of conductor and orchestra were certainly fulfilled. As was the case at Rattle’s farewell in Birmingham, the programme included compositions by Thomas Adès and Gustav Mahler. Asyla was written for Rattle in 1997, and it was he who conducted its first performance in the city. At the time Adès was only twenty-six, but he has in the meantime come to be regarded as Britten’s legitimate successor – and not only by his fellow Britons. The title of his piece, which lasts around twenty minutes in performance, is a pun on the ambiguity of the English word “asylum”, meaning both “sanctuary” and “madhouse”. Music critic Alex Ross described it in the pages of the New Yorker as “a piece in four movements which passes through violently contrasted symphonic episodes while pursuing a single potent figure”.

Mahler’s Fifth Symphony is a transitional work, no longer revelling in the world of the Wunderhorn songs that had typified the composer’s first four symphonies, but not yet as mystically lost to the world as the Sixth, Seventh and Ninth. In conducting it, Rattle paid a magnificent tribute to his predecessor Claudio Abbado, who was the orchestra’s great mentor in all matters relating to Mahler. It was a glorious start to Rattle’s incumbency, and one that not only the audience but the orchestra, too, rewarded with thunderous applause.

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