No reporters turned up at the airport on Sir John Barbirolli's return from a triumphant performance of Mahler's ninth with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1963. So the much-loved conductor of Manchester's Hallé rang the Guardian's Michael Morris to tell excitedly of 11 standing ovations. Mancunian audiences, then and now, are less demonstrative than Berliners: a Manchester ovation is defined as one person rising in Bridgewater Hall. But last Saturday, when the city's three orchestras launched a collaborative cycle of the complete Mahler symphonies, at least three people rose to their feet as conductor Gianandrea Noseda was repeatedly called back to the platform after the BBC Philharmonic's white-hot rendering of the first. The applause was as much for the project as the performance; 10 more concerts, five each by the BBC Philharmonic and the Hallé, and one by the Manchester Camerata, are to follow over five months, each to include a new commission from a wide range of composers. This collaboration between friendly rivals would be unlikely elsewhere in Britain: London has the means to do it, but hasn't. The climax, in terms of both co-operation and noise, comes on 2 May when the BBC Phil and the Hallé combine to pack the Bridgewater Hall platform for a performance of the eighth, the Symphony of a Thousand. Meanwhile, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic has started its own complete Mahler cycle, to be spread over two seasons. You can never have too much of a good Mahlerian thing.
In praise of… Mahler in the north