Gustavo Dudamel conducting
Gustavo Dudamel | Picture: Stephan Rabold

Concert information


“The Sixth is his most personal work, and a prophetic one at that” – said Gustav Mahler’s wife Alma. And in fact, with its apocalyptic tonal language, which is only occasionally lightened, the symphony seems to anticipate Mahler’s great personal catastrophes: the diagnosis of a heart condition, the death of his daughter, and professional failures. It is music that looks into the abyss. Gustavo Dudamel, one of the world’s most popular conductors, directs this performance. He has already performed Mahler symphonies on several occasions with the Berliner Philharmoniker.


Berliner Philharmoniker
Gustavo Dudamel conductor


Gustav Mahler
Symphony No. 6

Main Auditorium

47 to 145 €


Series L: Concerts with the Berliner Philharmoniker

Main Auditorium

47 to 145 €


Series M: Concerts with the Berliner Philharmoniker

Main Auditorium

47 to 145 €


Series N: Concerts with the Berliner Philharmoniker

The Fragility of Love
Gustav and Alma Mahler 

Picture: Dominik Scythe

Should she really say yes? The 22-year-old Alma, idolised by Vienna’s avant-garde artists and a talented composer herself, is faced with a difficult decision. Gustav Mahler, the up-and-comer from the provinces, offers her a life full of music, but no artistic equality. About one of the most famous love affairs in classical music.

Destructive blows
The hammer in Mahler’s Sixth Symphony


Two hammer blows shake the hall in the finale of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony. These are moments of shattering impact, and for percussionists, they represent a special challenge. In the tumultuous climax of the finale, in bar 336, Mahler has scored a blow in triple fortissimo; “A short, powerful yet dully-echoing blow of a non-metallic character (like an axe blow),” the composer notes in the score. This is nothing like the famous door-knock of fate in Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony; this is an intentionally destructive blow. It is followed by a second blow; it was for superstitious reasons, according to legend, that Mahler decided against a third.

He was specific in his instructions that the sound should not be a metallic one, like Wagner’s anvils in Das Rheingold. He wanted the dull thud of a deadly axe blow. A popular myth asserts that the death of a Pope was confirmed by striking the deceased Pontiff on the forehead with a silver hammer. Mahler’s blows are certainly theatrical. The percussionist heaves the hammer high, pauses until all eyes are upon him, and then lets the massive mallet fall. In homage to his idol, who had died three years earlier, Alban Berg, who greatly admired Mahler, paid him homage three years after his death by scoring five hammer blows in his op. 6 orchestral pieces, continuing the doomsday scenario.

The Berliner Philharmoniker’s large ‘Mahler 6’ hammer was custom-made for the orchestra’s percussion section under Herbert von Karajan’s leadership, explains percussionist Franz Schindlbeck. It includes a large box, to be struck by the hammer, its resonance amplifying the blow. “The weight of expectation is heavier than the actual hammer,” says Schindlbeck. The execution of the famous blows is a matter of split-second timing; and it requires counter-intuitive calculation. “The music gets ever slower and broader. I have to calculate ahead of time exactly when the phrase will reach its climax. Once the hammer begins to accelerate, you have perhaps two or three tenths of a second – and by then it’s too late to go back.”


Gustavo Dudamel

‘The evening will probably go down as the coolest conducting debut in the history of the orchestra,’ declared the Tagesspiegel after the 2008 Waldbühne concert, at which Gustavo Dudamel directed the Berliner Philharmoniker for the first time. The then 27-year-old conductor, who had grown up with the Venezuelan music education programme ‘El Sistema’ and won of the International Gustav Mahler Conducting Competition, had embarked on a rapid career rise that took him to the major international orchestras and opera stages of the world within an astonishingly short span of years. He has been at the helm of the Los Angeles Philharmonic since 2009, and will join the New York Philharmonic as chief conductor in the 2026/27 season. Gustavo Dudamel has also conducted the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela since he was 18 years old. The Venezuelan has a deep artistic friendship with the Berliner Philharmoniker. Every season, he brings his energetic musical style to acclaimed guest appearances, whith Gustav Mahler's symphonies frequently on the programme. The orchestra has also repeatedly invited him to high-profile concert events, like the 2010 New Year's Eve concert and the 2012 European concert in Vienna. He also conducted the orchestra on its 2018 tour of Asia. The Waldbühne plays a central role in the collaboration: after 2008, there were further concerts together at the outdoor stage in 2014 and 2017, and Gustavo Dudamel will end the season with the Berliner Philharmoniker there once again in 2025.