Orchestra standing up

Mahler’s dramatic Symphony No. 6 has enchanted and intrigued audiences since its completion at the start of the 20th Century. Like any orchestral performers who perform this iconic work in Mahler’s canon, our musicians inherited the mystery that surrounds the ‘Tragic’ work. Under the guidance of Sir Mark Elder, the orchestra worked hard to capture the essence of the 6th Symphony.

Michael Olsen, a trumpet player who participated in July Season described Mahler’s 6th as “an exciting piece to play,” both technically, and emotionally. “The orchestration is complex and extremely well thought out, and the piece is massive in length as well as emotional content” he added,” The challenge of the work is a complete journey from start to finish.”

Over 100 musicians performed in the July Season concerts, and the large orchestra had to work together as a team to tackle the challenging repertoire. Sir Mark Elder shared his knowledge of Mahler’s 6th to assist the participants in their interpretation of the work. “My job is to forge them into one sound,” he said,“to get them to feel the music in the same way, to discipline them, to give them some fundamental orchestral background work… and to get their fantasies and fingers into these great pieces.” Sir Mark Elder worked tirelessly to harness the enthusiasm of the musicians, who brought their energy, and their willingness to learn to every rehearsal. “They feel the concert coming and they go into another gear” he explained, “When I take a tea break the noise doubles, nobody wants to stop – they just want to keep going.”

Their efforts certainly paid off! Audiences were treated to a sensational performance, and responded with a roar of applause. The deafening hammer blows – a signature part of Mahler’s 6th – added drama to the performance. Throughout the work’s life, conductors have varied the number of hammer blows that are included in the finale. Should there be two or three? Many have considered the three hammer blows as ‘three blows of fate’, representing tragedies in his life, although critics have also dismissed this as superstition. During the performance, the audience heard three blows of the hammer, played on a custom-made drum that was originally commissioned by the Sydney Youth Orchestra.

The hammer and drum were loaned from Barry Heard, who built the impressive instrument. Barry sourced 43kg of wood and iron from his property to construct the drum. Hugh Tidy, one of our talented percussionists, was given the privilege of wielding the mighty hammer for our July season concerts. After two sensational performances, and an interstate journey, our orchestra was glad to have been able to perform this intriguing musical work.