“Mahler is a universe in itself”
Do you remember the first time you heard Mahler’s music?
Zinman: Yes I do, but I didn’t know it was Mahler at the time. It was in New York City when I was about 13 years old, and I was taken to a rehearsal of the New York Philharmonic there which Mitropoulos was conducting.
After that, I heard some Mahler on the radio, conducted by Bruno Walter. I just thought, yes, this is great music. Then of course the most important time for me was when I finally left America and went to England, where I heard Horenstein conduct the 3rd Symphony and Solti conducting the 4th, and many conductors were beginning to play more and more Mahler – this was in ’60 and ’61. Then I moved to Holland, where there is a great Mahler tradition of course, and I got to hear all the symphonies conducted by Haitink, who was very young. And I also conducted some Mahler myself; the first time I conducted the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, I put some of the Rückert-Lieder on the programme. And once, when I replaced Haitink in a concert, I did all of Des Knaben Wunderhorn [The Boy’s Magic Horn] with Jessye Norman. So I was becoming more and more steeped in Mahler, and when I got my own orchestra – the Rochester Philharmonic – I started to do all the symphonies, and then when I went to Baltimore, I did all the symphonies there as well, sometimes twice. And now here in Zurich I am doing them all again.