This was a very special trip for me because I don't have a chance to go to Israel very often. I think it's just the second time for the MCO. Israel has so many prolific musicians that I'm surprised they even need to bring in foreign bands! I'm half-joking of course, because who better to play Mahler than the Mahler Chamber Orchestra? This music runs in our blood…
Das Lied Von der Erde is such a masterpiece: Mahler's last complete work, reflecting the sadness and disillusion he harbored toward the end of his life. Losing his beloved daughter to scarlet fever and losing his job as chief conductor in Vienna made him despair, and maybe he turned to poetry and found solace in these beautiful texts from Chinese poets – even adding his own words in the last song, Abschied. He wrote to his friend Bruno Walter, who premiered this piece: "With one stroke, I have lost everything I have gained in terms of who I thought I was, and have to learn my first steps again like a newborn."
It was particularly touching to play this in Israel, knowing that Mahler suffered his entire life from antisemitism and also to think how he would have reacted to the beauty of Jerusalem, a city he could only imagine since it's precisely at the time of Mahler's death that Theodor Herzl came up with the founding ideas of Zionism in Vienna, thus bringing the dream of Jerusalem into actual life. (As a matter of fact, I don't know if the two knew each other, living in Vienna at the same time – I’ll have to look into that; that will be for another tour diary!)
The atmosphere of our concert location in the Israel Museum at the top of Mount Herzl (ironic?), overlooking the valleys, playing from the sunset into the night, mirrored so perfectly the words of his last song.
And of course Mahler’s music, as usual, speaks volumes: about the history of Europe at the turn of the century, his own cultural background and the spiritual dimension it conveys.
On a lighter note, I think the musicians had a great time and made the most of this trip with a lot of sightseeing: the Old City, museums and even a trip to the Dead Sea, punctuated by a few evenings cruising around town, enjoying the light and joyful atmosphere of the place, the many bars, de-li-cious restaurants and live music – an aspect that, to the outside eye, can seem in harsh contrast with the very strong and apparent religious fervor.
Having lived here, I know it's all part of what makes Israel a special place – it’s the secular next to the religious, the Arabs next to the Jews, the Hungarian next to the Ethiopian, a few Russian Orthodox and Christian monasteries thrown in... and there you have it!
Thank you, MCO, for letting us bring our music to so many places!
These photos were part of Beatrice Muthelet's MCO Instagram takeover. See more of her photos and read the accompanying texts under #beatricesmcoinstagramtakeover
Photos: Beatrice Muthelet