The Royal Academy of Music – Mahler’s Symphony No.6 ‘Tragic’

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The silence that fell over the Duke’s Hall at 7.30pm on Friday evening was only faintly broken by the whir of the Marylebone Road outside. Sitting up on the balcony with over a hundred musicians on stage in front of us, we were to witness what appeared to be a truly effortless performance.

As conductor Martyn Brabbins took both the audience and musicians through the peaks and troughs of Mahler’s ‘Tragic’ it would have been easy to not look beyond the spectacle itself.  Three days earlier in the same Hall, clad with chandeliers and ornate paintings, I was lucky to have been given a glimpse into the preparations for the concert and to talk to a couple of the musicians.

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Preparations for the Symphony No.6

Sitting down with Joe Bronstein (Viola) and Nick Walkley (Trumpet) in the Academy’s bar you couldn’t have felt further away from the suspending silence that greeted the beginning and the end of Friday’s performance. Both Nick and Joe are entering their final year as postgraduates, less than a year away from being professional musicians.

Listening to Joe describe life as an Academy student you could only sense that the hours of practice were professional in themselves. In the week building up to the concert, rehearsals last from 10 till 1 and 2 till 6. He joked at his colleague that as a string player he spent far more time practicing than the wind players. Nick, although not denying this, retorted that although being a string player required stamina, being a wind player required concentration.

Both were equally excited by the opportunity to be conducted by Martyn Brabbins. Brabbins is Chief Conductor of the Nagoya Philharmonic and Principal Guest Conductor of the Royal Flemish Philharmonic. He has notably conducted at the First Night of the Proms and at all of the major opera houses around the world.

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Joe Bronstein playing Viola

Trying to move both Joe and Nick off the topic of their music was of course difficult. Once teased out of them it would appear that their lives beyond the Academy were just as hectic. Nick is in the Irish Guards and therefore has had his fair share of ceremonial duties, a highlight being playing in the closing ceremony of the London Olympics. Joe is engaged and a member of various different musical groups beyond the Academy. Although not getting much time to wonder around Marylebone, both professed to be big fans of the High Street with all but familiar praise for the Nordic Bakery and the Ginger Pig.

With everything in context watching Friday night’s performance was a real pleasure. For eighty minutes the audience were presented with a musical representation of the lows of Mahler’s life, the complexity and length drawing both the ear and the eye. I had been forewarned by Joe and Nick that the three hammer blows represented three tragedies in the composer’s life – I could only feel but sorry for the percussionist who had to raise the huge hammer three times.

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The Hammer

As the final silence drew over the Hall and the much-deserved adulation finished I had the chance to grab a quick drink to find out how the concert had gone for Joe and Nick. The sense of relief was clear – both grinning they spoke of their relief having finished the week, but this marked only the beginning of a busy weekend – Joe was off to play in a further concert at the Cadogan Hall on Saturday and Nick was Changing the Guard the next morning. It became only too apparent that each performance at the Royal Academy of Music is driven by dedication, passion and professionalism.

For more information on the Royal Academy of Music and upcoming performances visit their website.

Photos by Hana Zushi


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Features Editor at Marylebone Online.