BREAKING- Coalition Government to Introduce “Mahler Licensing Scheme”

The Home Office is launching a new “Mahler Licensing Scheme” from 2013, it was announced on Tuesday in Downing Street.

“If the tragic events of 2010-11 taught us anything” Prime Minister David Cameron said in a joint press conference with Home Secretary Teresa May and leading Mahler biographer Henri Louis de la Grange “it is that we cannot entrust some of the greatest music ever written to any turtleneck-wearing, egomaniacal hack or washed-up soloist that picks up a £10 baton from Guivier’s.”

Prime Minister David Cameron, Mahler biographer Henri Louis de la Grange and Home Secretary Teresa May announcing the new “Mahler Licence” scheme

Although the scheme will initially only affect conductors, it will be expanded by 2015 to include all orchestral instrumentalists. “It is beyond comprehension” the Prime Minister said, “that in an age in which every 15 year-old boy taking trumpet lessons can play the opening of Mahler 5 better than that old guy in the Bernstein/VPO DVD, that we should still have wind players too lazy, complacent or incompetent to do a proper “Schalltricheter auf” where Mahler asks for it. For the sake of Queen and country, people, we owe it to Mahler and to Britain, to get those bells up.” It is also expected all orchestral string players will have to know where the “griffbrett” is on their instruments by 2016, although Labour backbenchers have already derided that target as “grossly unrealistic.”

Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg questioned the legislation, saying “We believe this is an infringement on the Liberal tradition of artistic freedom. If someone wants to conduct Mahler badly, they should be free do so. We’re taking a principled stand on this issue. As with all aspects of coalition government, we’ll brief against the bill to the press, but then vote unanimously for it. After voting for it, we’ll then claim we tried to stop it happening. I love Mahler, but I love the fleeting illusion of power more.”

Applicants who pass their initial written and practical exams will be issued a probationary licence, good for two Mahler symphonies in a two-year time span, after which they will be evaluated. Only those scoring at least 3 tenths of an “Eliahu Inbal,” the current standard international measure of responsible Mahler interpretation,  will be granted a five-year full licence.

The scheme also includes a penalty points system, modeled on the one used for drivers. Conductors or instrumentalists who accrue more than 12 penalty points in a two-year time span, will be banned from conducting or playing Mahler for a minimum of 18 months, and be forced to into “audience compassion” training, wherein they will be forced to watch multiple live performances of Mahler conducted by 20 year-old young men who have never actually had sex or spent a night away from their parents.

Some of the penalty-points infractions for conductors include

1-Failure to observe the exposition repeats in the First or Sixth symphonies:  2 points

2- Using the word “project” or “journey” in marketing any Mahler concert or concerts: 3 points

3- Re-completing the 10th Symphony: 7 points and time-management counseling

4- “Slipping” into German when rehearsing an English-speaking orchestra (applies to all non-native German speakers): 4 points

5- Changing your mind about the movement order in the Sixth Symphony based on something you read on the Internet: 6 points

6- Being “not quite sure about” the Seventh Symphony: 6 points

7- Conducting a Mahler symphony from a Dover score: 4 points

8- Copying a move from a Leonard Bernstein video: 4 points

9- Copying a move from a Gustavo Dudamel broadcast: 8 points

10- Conducting the “Adagietto” in under 8 minutes: 8 points

11- Letting the alto soloist sing the low notes in the soprano solo of Mahler 2: 5 points and mandatory casting counseling for all future vocal works conducted

12- Not crying, or at least fighting back tears, while conducting the end of Das Lied von der Erde: Instant disqualification and lifetime ban from conducting anything by Mahler

Recommendations regarding Mahler policing and enforcement have not been released, but Whitehall sources suggest that the extensive video monitor systems installed in UK concert halls by the Labour government to crack down on maestri “conducting Beethoven symphonies without vibrato because they were too insecure to risk being seen as “not trendy”” might be converted to monitor the emerging Mahler threat. “Non-vib Beethoven, especially as played by non-period instrument ensembles, is still a significant public nuisance” one Whitehall source said, “but at least the Labour scheme exposed it for the facile, attention-seeking vanity project it was. We think Mahler needs our help now, before non-vibrato Mahler evolves from its current classification as an “irritation” and becomes a something any sane person who is not hearing impaired could take seriously.”

Although the penalty-point system will only apply to transgressions committed with British orchestras, Customs and Immigration will be introducing a new “Mahler Gateway” scheme to vet conductors before they enter the country. “Conducting Mahler in the United Kingdom is a privilege, not a right” the Prime Minister said, “and it would be grossly irresponsible to continue to admit conductors into the country who have done the opening of the slow movement of Mahler One with a full double bass section. It’s well known that most nitwits are repeat offenders, and there really is no such thing as a “cured” nitwit. We are committed to working with our security partners in the USA, Europe and Asia to ensure that all Mahler interpreters entering the UK are fit for purpose.” There are also reports that Swiss maestri will be banned from conducting Mahler in the UK, on grounds that “Mahler and neutrality don’t mix.”

The Prime Minister was also asked about the state of Mahler criticism, and whether critics who fail to speak for either the music or the audience would be banned from writing about the composer. “There are of course, many Mahler critics who are profoundly knowledgeable about the composer, but it is true that even as recognition of the value of Mahler’s music has become more universal among critics, the inability of some critics to correctly identify blatant cases of bad taste, missing the point, charlatanism or even advanced senility among Mahler conductors is deeply concerning. Unfortunately,” Cameron added “some problems are too big for government, and we can only hope the profession might begin to police itself more effectively. We’d like to see an end to the practices that have led to the publication of such nonsense as “finally, the Mahler 2 we’ve all been waiting for.””

When asked what sort of reforms he would like to see within the critical establishment, the Prime Minster said “Well, for one, I think the British public, especially in these difficult times, are tired of critical complaints about the Eighth Symphony. I mean really- every time I hear some self-important hack call the Eighth “overblown,” I just want to shout “Really? Overblown? Really? How much less blowing did it need, in your opinion, Mr Critic?!?!”

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

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13 comments on “BREAKING- Coalition Government to Introduce “Mahler Licensing Scheme””

  1. Peter

    My licence expired last year, and I’ve joined a growing underground who get our kicks from illicit performances in rural locations. Customs and Excise are making spot-checks and the fines are steep, but you can relish that Schonbergian sense of paranoia and prohibition, adding whole new dimensions to angry and revolutionary works like the Sixth Symphony. Holding a performance of No.8 in a secret location is a serious challenge, but if anyone is around next Friday week, near an old farm building in the village of Lower Pitches, Shropshire, you may be able to hear the Chorus Mysticus floating on the breeze.

  2. Gary C

    Where does arranging the Adagietto from the 5th for choir and orchestra to ‘Ave Maria’ come in the penalty scheme? 🙂

  3. Jay MacIntyre

    Hilarious. Thanks for posting this….I may be penalized if anyone knows I sing the finale of Mahler 4 while washing dishes!

  4. Timothy Bratton

    Priceless! But what about us amateurs who conduct pre-recorded Mahler symphonies in front of mirrors? Will we be outed?

  5. John Broggio

    I wouldn’t be so funny re the double bass section doing the slow movement solo in M1, unless you’re wanting to cast Bernard Haitink (at least) into the Mahlerian wilderness that is…

  6. Kenneth Woods

    Well, John, we tried to make sure that everyone got a bit of ribbing including me (there are some well- documented Ken transgressions in the list of sins). Haitink is the greatest living conductor and a peerless Mahlerian, but the M1 bass section thing is complete nonsense and totally, utterly and completely discredited. Isn’t it somehow encouraging that even the King gets it wrong sometimes?

    There’s a bit of light-hearted doucumentation here:

  7. rudolf grainger

    I represent* Daniel Harding, and I must protest “Sehr Heftig” against point No.4b. It can happen to ze best of us. Wirklich. Especially if, say, you studied in Berlin…

    (* Note: This is only partially correct, in that I do not actually represent Daniel Harding)

  8. Rick

    Does #10 also apply to Bruno Walter? He generally did it in about 7 and a half minutes.

  9. Kenneth Woods

    Hi Rick- Thanks for the comment

    I’m not sure whether I should give a serious answer, since the whole piece is satirical in nature anyway, but…

    One thing you can see in the footage of Walter conducting and that players who worked with him have told me is that he had some confidence issues about his baton technique, and particularly struggled to control things in a slow pulse- not just slow music like the Adagietto, but also waltzes and movements like the first mvts of Brahms 3 and the Brahms D minor Pno Concerto. He does the Scherzo of Mahler 5 far, far faster than anyone else, very much against Mahler’s specific instructions- I’m sure it’s simply because he couldn’t controll it. Likewise, in Das Lied, he often speeds up or tumbles ahead in music that Mahler marks to be slow and getting slower. For all his culture, connection to Mahler and musicianship, I think his tempo in the Adagietto had a lot to do with his inability to conduct slowly. Same for the first mvt of the 9th.

    I’d give him a Mahler licence, but I wouldn’t let him do the 5th, 9th or Das Lied. The 1st, though, yes please!

    That’s probably more information and opinion than you wanted.


  10. markmarcus

    New rules for conducting symphonies by symphonies by Gustav Mahler arrive only 90 years after Richard Strauss’s “Ten Golden Rules for Conducting.”

    Ten Golden Rules For the Album of a Young Conductor:

    Remember that you are making music not to amuse yourself, but to delight your audience.

    You should not perspire when conducting; only the audience should get warm.

    Conduct Salome and Elektra as if they were Mendelssohn Fairy Music.

    Never look encouragingly at the brass, except with a brief glance to give an important cue.

    But never let the horns and woodwinds out of your sight. If you can hear them at all they are still too strong.

    If you think that the brass is now blowing hard enough, tone it down another shade or two.

    It is not enough that you yourself should hear every word the soloist sings. You should know it by heart anyway. The audience must be able to follow without effort. If they do not understand the words they will go to sleep.

    Always accompany the singer in such a way that he can sing without effort.

    When you think you have reached the limits of prestissimo, double the pace.

    If you follow these rules carefully you will with your fine gifts and your great accomplishments, always be the darling of your listeners.

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