Mahler’s lasting impact on concert programming

Posted on: January 21, 2011

In Friday’s (1/21) Wall Street Journal, Norman Lebrecht writes about Gustav Mahler’s 1909-1911 tenure as New York Philharmonic music director. “Taking over as conductor, he fired half of its players and set about reforming America’s concert expectations. ‘I intend to let my public and the music critics help me in picking out the musical way we should go,’ he announced, but on the ship coming over from his European summer he had already sketched out a structure that shapes American concert life to this day. Mahler split the [Philharmonic’s] Carnegie [Hall] season into four subscription blocs, each with a thematic base, something no conductor had tried before. As well as a Regular Series, he put in a Beethoven cycle ‘for the education of lovers of classical music, for the education of my orchestra and for students.’ Sunday concerts were for ‘workers and students’ who could not afford full-price tickets, and a Historical Series set out to demonstrate the evolution of music from Bach to the present, a kind of pre-media documentary. … Mahler redefined the core purpose of concerts, substituting enlightenment for mere entertainment and reaching out to socially diverse audiences.” Symphony magazine assessed Mahler’s varied legacy in its September-October issue; to read the article at SymphonyOnline, click here.

Posted January 21, 2011