Five things to know about the Mahler Chamber Orchestra

Friday, November 22, 2019 - 12:38

At the heart of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra’s foundation just over two decades ago was a shared vision of being a free and international ensemble. Having performed in over 40 countries across five continents to date, and with musicians of twenty different nationalities among their numbers, it’s safe to say they have, and continue to, live up to that raison d’etre.

On 31 January 2020 the MCO’s travels bring them here to Southbank Centre as they join one of Mozart's greatest interpreters, Mitsuko Uchida, to perform two of the great composer’s piano concertos. With their last appearance together here on our stage described as “pure crystalline Mozart” in Martin Kettle’s five star Guardian review, it’s certainly a performance not to be missed.

Uchida is a renowned pianist and conductor who, having performed on our stages countless times in recent years, will be no stranger to many of you. But what about the MCO? Well, here’s five things to know about the orchestra to help get you started.


The Orchestra was created by its own members

The Mahler Chamber Orchestra has its routes in Claudio Abbado’s Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra. In 1997 a number of musicians were reaching the age limit for that group, but decided they didn’t want to cease playing together. They duly created their own orchestra, and the rest is history.


The Orchestra enjoyed a close relationship with Claudio Abbado

Abbado was more than just the MCO’s Founding Mentor. In the orchestra’s early years he helped shape their signature approach, playing music for full orchestra with the versatility and intimacy of a much smaller group. Their first public collaboration came with the ground-breaking performance of legendary stage director Peter Brook’s production of Don Giovanni at the 1998 Aix-en-Provence festival. In 2003 Abbado also selected MCO performers to form the basis of his Lucerne Festival Orchestra, made up of his favourite players hand-picked from the world’s best orchestras.


Claudio Abbado, with stage director Peter Brook and a young Daniel Harding, the MCO’s Conductor Laureate. Photo by Elisabeth Carecchio.


The Orchestra is always on tour

Unlike the majority of orchestras, the MCO has no fixed home, and so every concert they play is part of a tour. As a result, its musicians, who are based all over the world, from Europe to Japan and Australia, come together only for each tour and then return home. This allows many of the performers to also play in other orchestras, including concertmaster Matthew Truscott, who plays with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.


The Orchestra is responsible for one of the 21st century’s most successful works

Earlier this year The Guardian listed what they considered the best classical music works of the 21st century. Placed second on that list was George Benjamin’s Written on Skin, an opera premiered by the MCO in Aix in 2012, and one which was penned by Benjamin with the MCO’s musicians in mind.


Written on skin -- George Benjamin -- Aix-en-provence 2012


The Orchestra does not have a Principal Conductor

Nor does it have a Music Director. Instead the MCO, has six ‘Artistic Partners’; Leif Ove Andsnes, Teodor Currentzis, Daniele Gatti, Daniel Harding, Pekka Kuusisto and Mitsuko Uchida. Each of these partners work alongside the orchestra over a number of years to help develop musical concepts and repertoire. 

For example, with Andsnes, the MCO completed the acclaimed Beethoven Journey in 2015 and are now exploring classic repertoire written in 1785-86. While with Uchida, each performance programme is based around two Mozart piano concertos with a self-directed piece for full orchestra in between. Together they are performing this repertoire the world over, including their concert here in our Royal Festival Hall.



The Mahler Chamber Orchestra join Mitsuko Uchida to perform two of Mozart’s piano concertos in our Royal Festival Hall on 31 January 2020.

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