Mahler And How Bold Moves Empower Businesses
One of my (Ben’s) favourite symphonies is Gustav Mahler’s Third. It’s the longest symphony in the standard repertoire, with six movements, and a huge range of sound meant to encapsulate the entirety of human emotion.
I’ve seen it performed loads of times, so when Timothy Redmond, the conductor who works together with us on our Know the Score® programme, invited me to swell the ranks of the Cambridge Philharmonic Orchestra to perform this piece, I could hardly wait.
One of the main reasons, is that Mahler was an exceptional writer for the French horn in his music. And he decided to open his Third Symphony with a grand horn call, where all nine horns play very loudly in unison, a noble theme. The other became clear as we rehearsed. Playing as part of an orchestra reminded me once again of how powerful the orchestra metaphor is for business.
During rehearsals Tim had a clear vision for the piece and, as when you’re communicating anything to an organisation, made sure we understood fully, by taking care to explain what he was aspiring to in imaginative ways. At one point he told us horn players that we needed to ‘take off our wellies and climb the mountain with mountain boots on,’ a metaphor explaining how he wanted the theme to be punchy and bouncy, rather than plodding. Similarly he told the bassoons that he wanted them to sound like a ‘gabble of grumpy trolls’!
The symphony itself is both massive in scale and in length – it can take longer than 90 minutes to perform, and you’d expect the final movement, as the climax of the piece, to be the part where the conductor would control even more closely. Bruno Walter, a conductor who collaborated very closely with Mahler, wrote of the last movement “Words are stilled—for what language can utter heavenly love more powerfully and forcefully than music itself? The Adagio, with its broad, solemn melodic line, is, as a whole—and despite passages of burning pain—eloquent of comfort and grace. It is a single sound of heartfelt and exalted feelings, in which the whole giant structure finds its culmination.”
It was at this moment, Tim chose to stop conducting entirely, instead trusting the strings to perform to their best by truly listening to one another.
The bravery of that move was both incredibly empowering and honouring to the skills of the musicians under his baton, and a risk that paid off – our performance was a resounding success. A tribute to his leadership and a great example of how organisations can produce something astonishing when envisioned and empowered to do so.
Read a review of the performance here.