Preview: Uri Caine's Mahler in Birmingham

Preview: Uri Caine meets Mahler
Town Hall Birmingham, Saturday 5th February, 7.30pm


Uri Caine will be bringing a Mahler project to Birmingham on Saturday February 5th. It ain't coming to London, which is a shame.

Caine has now recorded twenty-one albums for the Munich label Winter & Winter. The most recent is Twelve Caprices, his own compositions, playing the piano with the Arditti String Quartet. It was recorded "as live." Twenty-one is a lot of albums. But, after fifteen years, the opening bars of the first CD from 1996 (above) have imprinted themselves on my mind's ear. Statements of intent when arriving on a new label don't come much stronger than this.

That first CD was called Urlicht. The first few bars consist of the opening of Mahler's 5th Symphony in C sharp minor, played with energy and bite on solo trumpet by Dave Douglas. Unlike many orchestral conductors, Caine has read what it says on the tin, and follows Mahler's instructions: Funeral March. At measured pace. Strictly. Like a procession. You could march to Caine's version.

What Caine does, particularly using the electronically generated sounds of DJ Olive, is to democratize this music, to cock a snook at the grandiose performing tradition, to remove the excess cream, to make poor old Mahler's arteries pump blood properly. The conductor Herbert von Karajan probably only ever went to funerals sunk deep in luxury leather back seat of a Mercedes 600 Pullman. Nobody is ever going to march to THIS .

The classical establishment, with its long lead times to performance, is back in full Mahler-aggrandizing mode. The 150th anniversary of Mahler's birth was last year, this year marks centenary of his death. Commentators, historians are out in force. The music is being overlaid with verbiage and variations on religious Angst. Caine told me last summer that one tuneless author insisted on intoning Jewish prayers on a radio programme with Caine accompanying him. Some people use Mahler to get all steamed up about his long tendency to suppress his Jewishness.

Plus there are the arguments over what exactly he was suffering from when he died - a popular theory is that his wife Alma was responding with inappropriate enthusiasm to the gropings of an architect. Whatever. What Caine does is to respond as a musician to his music. Uri Caine is an indispensable figure in contemporary music, and am sad he won't be coming to London. And that's why I intend to head up the M40/M42 on February 5th.

The line-up for Birmingham is Uri Caine – Piano/ Chris Speed – sax/ Chris Batchelor – trumpet/ Josefina Vergara – violin/ DJ Olive – turntables/ Steve Watts – bass/ Jim Black – drums


This project comes out of Birmingham Music Hub, a collaborative venture between the CBSO, Sym Hall-Town Hall, BCMG, Ex Cathedra and Birmingham Jazz, supported by Arts Council England. Promoter Tony Dudley-Evans brought Caine to Birmingham in 1997, and with his Bach Golberg project to the Cheltenham Jazz Festival 2003, reviewed by John Fordham HERE

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