It was only fitting that the great Claudio Abbado would begin his storied tenure with the Berliner Philharmoniker by conducting Mahler’s First Symphony in December 1989. For one thing, Abbado was already considered one of the great Mahlerians of his day; for another, the symphony—by a young Mahler, not yet 30—seems infused with a sense of new beginnings. Even today, we can feel the unique magic of this momentous concert, thankfully captured on film.
The election of Claudio Abbado to the head of the world-renowned ensemble came as something of a surprise to the music world—not least to the conductor himself! In many ways, his personable nature—he was simply “Claudio” to everyone—embodied a contrast to Herbert von Karajan who, particularly in his later years, had became ever more remote from his musicians. Abbado also aimed at a more transparent sound, and put an emphasis on new music—and also on Mahler, who had only occasionally appeared in Philharmoniker concerts under Karajan.
In this early work, all the features of Mahler’s symphonic style are already present: sounds of nature, moments of levity, monumental scope, and affinity with folk song. The consummate compositional mastery never hems in the natural optimism of this work—a perfect reflection of the optimism that shines through in everyone involved in this legendary concert.
Lucerne Festival 2003
Lucerne Festival 2004