The Nielsen cycle is the third cycle I have planned with the Utah Symphony Orchestra. Cycles have played, and continue to play, a very significant role for the orchestra in past and present seasons.
When I first planned a Beethoven cycle, performed in the course of the last two seasons with the Utah Symphony Orchestra, I knew it was going to be a challenge. We performed the cycle in reverse order, as there is a more creative complexity that way, given the acrobatic demands of the early classical-style symphonies. One result was that the cycle provided a musical frame, and created a mood for all of us. It did not make the orchestra feel constrained by the work of a single composer; on the contrary it made it more open and receptive to the other repertoire in the season.
We did a Mendelssohn cycle next, as I wanted to do something that was not too different, like a “Beethoven resonance”. Mendelssohn was not a revolutionary, and his work provided the ideal material to follow the Beethoven cycle.
Then, I wanted to plan something which would serve as a transition to our much-anticipated Mahler cycle, which we have planned to start in the 2014-15 season. I picked Nielsen, because I am a great admirer of his – not just in terms of his compositions, but also in terms of his personality. To me, his music is the sound of life. His openness, intelligence and generosity have always attracted me. I feel that his values are close to the ones surrounding the Utah Symphony. He was a self-taught man, who believed in education. He was close to nature, simple, and very philosophical. He was also highly original in his compositions while living in an environment which was hostile to him. He was a frank, very direct man, both in his relationships with people, and with nature. He had an open, wondering approach. In addition, he had an awareness of the fact that work is everything.
All the symphonies are very unique. Many people resisted the idea of us doing a Nielsen cycle at first, but so far it has really been a great success. We have sold more tickets than during the Mendelssohn cycle.
We have played symphonies 1 through 4, and we are playing the 5th symphony this week. This is Nielsen at his zenith, and reflects a vitality and optimism. It is where he abandons the formal principles of composition and adopts an entirely organic approach. He plays with extremes: it’s barbarism versus civilisation.
For an orchestra, a cycle brings with it so much cohesion and inspires a great deal of creativity. It is challenging to do, but this also lends the orchestra confidence.
In working this way, we are placed in a creative situation where we are all completely involved. The effect on the orchestra is tremendous. It brings so much artisticdiscipline, motivation and sense of anticipation. It brings to the fore the necessity of being prepared, and with it the notions of excellenceand of curiosity. It prepares one to derive musical satisfaction from pieces that might not have been encountered before.
In this situation, you can only be subjective. For me, the cycles will resonate for many years, and I believethe effects of doing them will be seen over time. I am so proud of the orchestra. They offered no resistance, but dove in, and this brought with it a fresh readiness.
I felt the Nielsen cycle was crucial in achieving this, and it affected the rest of the season in complex yet simple ways. So far, we have played the symphonies chronologically, and in order to promote the programmes, we have tried to make parallels with other repertoire with the spirit of Nielsen in mind.
My long-term view was always to perform the Nielsen cycle in preparation for the Mahler cycle. The orchestra has already had the sense of participating in a musical marathon which was extremely demanding, and required a lot of mental and physicalendurance.
The spirit of this is simply, in providing a musical frame, we allow art to guide us. We don’t have an influence on it, and to complete a cycle we need to prove a certain artistic endurance. There is a sense of inevitability that lies in playing one symphony after the other, and I think we can develop an artistic identity through performing cycles. It means that art is determining our activities – not the other way around – and is pushing us forwards to achieve unlimited results.
I am very much looking forward to the Mahler cycle, and I think the orchestra is too. I think they are ready for it, from a spiritual point of view, and working on Nielsen provided us with the right perspective for approaching Mahler.
There is a sense of expectation and excitement in the organisation, but planning it this way was very strategic too. After the challenging, albeit successful task of selling tickets for Nielsen, selling tickets for the Mahler cycle ensures a sense of satisfaction!
Embarking in a Gustav Mahler cycle makes me think of Albert Einstein’s quote:
“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as if everything is a miracle.”