If you're a regular attendee of programs here at Walt Disney Concert Hall, you've likely seen BP Hall - it's where we usually hold out Upbeat Live pre-concert talks.
Chances are good, though, that you've never seen it packed with more than 200 members of the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela - we held a little party to welcome them to LA and to thank them for shouldering some of the load of The Mahler Project. Here's what it looked like:
It's easy to assume that what you see is what you get - for example, even though we may know objectively that The Mahler Project is an enormous undertaking with many moving parts, that fact can sometimes be obscured or forgotten when we see the final product. Orchestra rehearses, orchestra plays - right?
Well...no. Take the upcoming Mahler 8, for example. We know it's referred to as Mahler's "Symphony of a Thousand," and we know that Gustavo Dudamel is leading the LA Phil, the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela and around 800 other musicians in the performance on FEB 4 at LA's Shrine Auditorium and on FEB 18 at the Teatro Teresa Carreño in Caracas - we know all that, but here's a question - where and how does such a massive ensemble rehearse?
If you thought last week at Walt Disney Concert Hall had a whole lot of Mahler, then get ready - this week will really knock you out. Gustavo and the LA Phil have progressed at a brisk but reasonable pace since launching The Mahler Project on JAN 13, but now that the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela has arrived and played not only THEIR first Mahler symphony with Gustavo but also the first of two performances of "Mahler's World" -- well, the only word we can think of to describe this week is "breakneck."
Here's what's happening in The Mahler Project this week:
Growing up in central Oklahoma, there was a weather pattern we were used to in the same way residents of Southern California are used to the Santa Ana winds: springtime thunderstorms. As I understand it, they are the result of warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico colliding with cold, dry air from up in Canada and the northern plains. If conditions were just right and you were in just the right place, you could experience the sudden change from warm to cold and feel Mother Nature at work.
I always enjoyed this rare treat, as the atmosphere was inevitably very calm and still, but in the distance you could see the clouds heading your way. As they grew closer, the energy of the storm began to fill the air with tension and excitement and there was a sense of nature charging itself up. Once the storm arrived, the cleansing rush of water was only interrupted by the thrilling flashes of lightning and percussive claps of thunder. Seen from a certain perspective, these storms were an exciting and beautiful display of nature.
Thursday's performance of Mahler 1 was spellbinding - especially with the powerful way it ended with the Adagio of the 10th symphony - musically "bookending" Mahler's extraordinary but brief life. The viola section was especially poignant with its utterances, I felt.
In the summer of 1966 or 67 I was playing in the Idyllwild (CA) Festival Orchestra as concertmaster. I had been in student orchestras at the Idyllwild School of Music and the Arts, or ISOMATA - now called Idyllwild Arts - every summer but one since 1959. This, however, was the first time playing with conductor Daniel Lewis, then on the faculty of Cal State Fullerton, now retired from many years conducting and teaching at U.S.C.
Working with Lewis was wonderful - his conducting and musicianship were so much better than most conductors I had played with before and after that time - but what sticks in my mind and heart the most was my introduction to the musical world of Gustav Mahler.
Mahler 4 was the first of his symphonies that I learned. An LA native, I was a senior in high school and a student member of the Pasadena Symphony. My mother was Concertmaster and the Conductor was the Pasadena Symphony's Music Director Richard Lert. I have memories of evening rehearsals - sitting in the back of the second violin section, watching Lert prepare the orchestra for performance and working hard to perfect my part. There was one passage in the Bass section in the third movement that Lert kept going over and over again, trying to get it to sound as he envisioned it. Somehow, the basses managed to get it right and we continued on.
Being paired with Mahler 1 this weekend (except for Friday's performance) is the only existing portion of the unfinished Mahler 10, the Adagio. Combined, the two pieces present a vision of Mahler that is diametrically opposed - the young, nature-loving Mahler of the 1880s and the Mahler of 1910-11, dying of a heart ailment (and possibly a broken heart).
Here's what you might not know about these two bookends to Mahler's career:
With the first weekend of The Mahler Project successfully under our belts and behind us, you probably think we're ready for a well-deserved break, right?
Not on your life.
As followers of the festival know, The Mahler Project is just getting started. In fact, after an amazing opening weekend featuring Mahler 4, "Songs of a Wayfarer" and a stirring Thomas Hampson rendition of Mahler's Rheinlegendchen for an encore on Sunday night, this week is even more jam-packed with Mahler-related goodness.