The Greatest Music Event That Never Happened

The Greatest Music Event That Never Happened

It was going to be incredible.

In 1920, the Concertgebouw Orchestra hosted a festival honoring Gustav Mahler. They repeated it 75 years later. Then in 2020, on its 100th anniversary, they organized the greatest Mahler Festival ever, featuring his ten symphonies in ten days as played by four of the world’s great orchestras—Berlin, Vienna, New York, and Concertgebouw—in Amsterdam’s legendary and acoustically perfect Concertgebouw concert hall.

The festival was a concertgoer’s dream, the musical event of a lifetime. Yes, it was expensive and a long distance away, but I had to go. It was as simple as that. My understanding wife, Yvonne, encouraged me. And so one night I stayed up late (early in Amsterdam) to buy tickets the minute they went on sale. Success! We booked a hotel for me, and I was all set.

Checking the date, you know what happened. Or, rather, didn’t happen. The Concertgebouw people had worked for years, literally, to coordinate the schedules of those four orchestras on those ten days, and the pandemic torpedoed it all, along with hundreds, thousands, millions of other performances and plans.

Trying valiently to plug the leak, the Concertgebouw rescheduled the festival for the following year with a different and somewhat more modest group of orchestras: Budapest, Munich, Hong Kong, London, and the Bavarian Radio Symphony. I was glad they were trying, but I wasn’t interested. As it turned out, the point was moot, because that festival was also canceled, owing to the continuing pandemic.

This isn’t a complaint; in fact, it’s the opposite. I’m pausing today to remember the magnificent plans and all the hours of work put in by the Concertgebouw staff to create the greatest music event of my life—not a gathering of Mahler fans in 2020 but a beautiful idea, lovingly created, floating just out of reach.


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