How do orchestral players survive?

I am thinking of orchestras on tour and specifically of the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra who I heard in Bristol yesterday. They have eleven concerts in fourteen days. They were in Leeds on Saturday evening and then Bristol on Sunday afternoon – and it’s a long way between those two cities; where did they get their sleep? On the coach perhaps! Today they are in Southend and then up to the midlands for their last concert in Coventry. They must be exhausted, but there were no signs of it in their committed playing yesterday. The programme, conducted by Jacek Kaspszyk, was hardly a doddle, either.
How do orchestral players survive?

The main work was Mahler’s 5th Symphony.

I don’t remember seeing this in performance before, though I have heard it often on CD and the radio. It is known especially for the beautiful third movement adagietto, which is often played alone and was used in the 1971 film Death in Venice. It was frequently performed on its own before then, chiefly because in the early 20th century music programmers didn’t believe whole Mahler symphonies would be acceptable to audiences. Indeed, the British premiere of the entire Fifth Symphony came thirty-six years after the Adagietto had been introduced by Henry Wood at a Proms concert in 1909. It was written as Mahler’s love song to Alma, recently married at the time of composition, 1901.

 The symphony is full of the contrasts typical of Mahler.

I hadn’t realised how the brass and the strings are almost like separate orchestras in conflict rather than players of the same body, with perhaps the woodwind acting as mediators.  The trumpet solo that introduces the first movement and acts as commentator was impressively played, as was the French horn that has a similar role in the second movement.

Before the interval in this very full programme we heard Bernstein’s Overture to his opera ‘Candide’, apparently a particular showpiece of this orchestra, loudly applauded by the small audience which was all the Colston Hall could muster on a freezing Sunday afternoon. Penderecki’s Chaconne for string orchestra was lovely and quite new to me and then we heard Shostakovich’s second piano concerto which is a favourite of mine and was played with great bravura by Noriko Ogawa.

The programme notes claimed that it avoids traditional virtuosity, to cater for the composer’s 19 year old son for whom it was written. I disagree. It must be a fiendishly difficult work to play. Both orchestra and soloist were brilliant – the outer movement crazy in its freedom and the slow movement which is quite one of the lovliest I know, played very beautifully.