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The picture of empty chairs in the desert became a meaningful image for the 2020 Wiener Festwochen. Das Lied von der Erde is one of the festival’s main in-house productions and, like many others, it had to be postponed to 2021. Yet the issues it raises remain more topical than ever. Are we now able to listen more attentively to the Earth, rather than simply occupy it? With his music theatre production, French stage director and set designer Philippe Quesne explores, through Gustav Mahler’s symphonic song cycle, the connection between humankind and nature in the light of its vulnerabilities and possibilities. At the threshold between melancholy and utopia, it is the Earth that keeps our sensibility, desires, and creative capabilities alive. Quesne combines with visual poetry an intensive encounter with the very act of living to update the contemplative descriptions of nature that underlie Mahler’s composition. Originally written in a mountain village in South Tyrol in 1908, the cycle comprised of six Lieder is inspired by ancient Chinese poetry. ‘But you O man, what long life have you?’ The renowned Klangforum Wien is to perform The Song of the Earth in the chamber music version by composer Reinbert de Leeuw, who passed away in 2020. In the spirit of Schoenberg, the music in its reduced form succeeds in extracting an intimate melancholy from Mahler’s work.