I have been following with interest the career of Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla the young Lithuanian conductor since she was appointed Musical Director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) in 2016.
Her appointment seemed to be very “left field” although there were very strong rumours in Birmingham that the orchestra had been extremely impressed with her when she guest conducted them.
Since then she has enhanced her reputation with her dynamism on the platform, enthusiasm and willing to take chances with programmes that embraced modern music and that of “lost” composers e.g. Mieczysław Weinberg.
Earlier this season I travelled down to Symphony Hall in Birmingham to see her perform Mahler 2, possibly my favourite Mahler symphony. A very good performance was almost spoiled by a mother and pre-teen daughter sat in front of me who talked throughout the performance and the young girl was also eating and playing on her iPad! If you are going to introduce children to classical music (which I would support) I suggest you don’t start with one of Mahler’s longest symphonies.
When I found out that there was to be a performance of Mahler 8 (Symphony of a Thousand) I immediately booked tickets as it is performed rarely because of the huge forces required.
So, on Sunday 19 January 2020 I travelled down to Birmingham for the evening concert. It was almost a full house with just the odd empty single seats here and there. There was a great deal of anticipation in the air as the orchestra came onto the stage and then the five choirs that are needed for the piece.
Finally the eight soloists walked on accompanied by Mirga, it seems that she is simply known by her first name these days by concertgoers and indeed many music critics simply refer to her by her first name.
Although I have all of the Mahler symphonies on CD I would say the eighth is the least played one. Hearing it live is another matter altogether, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla plunged headlong into Part I, a setting of the hymn ‘Veni, Creator Spiritus’. The opening few minutes were an explosion of sound (think Phil Spector and his famous “wall of sound” but x 5) and when the music relaxed somewhat for the first entry of the septet of soloists there was a simple transition without losing momentum.
The start of the second section of the symphony featured some stunning playing by the orchestra and it is easy to forget how beautiful this part of the symphony is. One could not fault the soloists who all sang with passion and commitment, but for me the stars of the evening were the five choirs assembled for this demanding piece of music. Tremendous plaudits should go to Simon Halsey, probably the best chorus master in the world today for his work with the choirs.
The end of the symphony is enough to reduce anyone to tears, as it did with some of the audience sat near me. 85 minutes (without a break) passed so quickly and at the end the audience responded with rapturous applause.
It was noticeable that Mirga shunned the limelight and took her bow with the soloists and in front of “her” orchestra. She is an extraordinary talent and the orchestra and musical public of Birmingham should value what they have got. Let us hope she remains for a good number of years and doesn’t get “poached” by one of the leading international orchestras.
A magnificent evening of music from all concerned and I look forward to attending my next Mirga concert.
Photographs (c) Kindadukish 2020