Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

      On your marks...get set...and GO!

      That's right - after many months of anticipation (and many, many more of preparation), The Mahler Project officially begins tonight as Gustavo Dudamel leads the LA Phil and guest artists Thomas Hampson and Miah Persson in Mahler's Songs of a Wayfarer and Symphony No. 1.

      Gustav MahlerHere are a few Festival-friendly, wet-your-whistle type facts you might not know about each of these pieces:

      Songs of a Wayfarer:

      1) Songs of a Wayfarer (1883-1885) is not only considered Mahler's first "mature" work, but also the first of an entirely new genre of orchestral music - the "orchestral song cycle."

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      The LA Weekly on “Mahlerpalooza”

      Gustav MahlerIt's no surprise that The Mahler Project is attracting attention from the local LA press - after all, it's a big undertaking and involves a solid three weeks of concerts here in town. We already linked to the LA Times' Mark Swed's article on Gustavo Dudamel and The Mahler Project - it featured an interview with our Music Director and was a thoughtful, serious piece that explored Gustavo's reasons for undertaking such a monumental task.

      The LA Weekly, on the other hand, takes a slightly different approach today. Calling the festival "Mahlerpalooza," the alt-weekly's West Coast Sound blog offers up a guide advising the best way to take in nine concerts in 22 days. Here's a sample:

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      Let The Mahler Project Begin!

      A few words that keep getting thrown around when discussing The Mahler Project: ambitious, monumental, massive.

      But why? After all, orchestras have certainly presented Mahler cycles before – playing each of the composer’s nine symphonies in a short period. However, we think The Mahler Project is quite special. Let’s look at the numbers.

      Nine symphonies. Two continents. Two orchestras. And one conductor.

      That’s not even taking into account the (literally) 1,000 musicians that will crowd onto the stage of the Shrine Auditorium here in LA (and the Teatro Teresa Carreño in Caracas) to perform Mahler 8, the so-called “Symphony of a Thousand.” A thousand is a big number for one stage. And this doesn’t even begin to factor in the logistics of moving Gustavo Dudamel, the LA Phil and the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela 3,600 miles to Caracas, Venezuela to do it all over again.

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      Magical Mahler in Vienna

      Vienna, our last stop. Last night, playing in the Musikverein was magical. Thinking of Mahler in this same building was so inspiring.

      The Vienna venue for the 2011 European Tour party -- seven cities, 13 concerts, 21 days...now time to relax!
      The Vienna venue for the 2011 European Tour party -- seven cities, 13 concerts, 21 days...now time to relax!

      The stage was very crowded for the 105 musicians needed for our last performance of Mahler 9 and I looked across the stage and saw some audience members standing by the bass players!! The backstage of this absolutely gorgeous hall was very confusing - the instrument trunks were on one level, the wardrobe trunks on another and the stage on yet one more. And the stairs!

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      Vienna, At Long Last

      Ah, Vienna!

      A poster in Vienna announces the final concerts of the LA Phil's 2011 European Tour.

      It's still cold, especially for us Angelenos, but the sun is out and should be for these last days of the tour. Last night was a special one - playing Mahler 9th in the hall where Mahler conducted - the Musikverein, one of the best, if not the best, in the world.

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      And Now, A Word From Our Concertmaster

      What an exciting prospect to be entering Vienna, the quintessential Musical Capital, after such a long time!

      Martin Chalifour
      You run into all sorts of people on tour - here's LA Phil Principal Concertmaster Martin Chalifour with legendary violinist Ivry Gitlis.

      The famed city is the last stop on our tour and arguably the most important, one that my wife Nancy and I know well from our student years. We both studied here and have fond memories of the place.

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      Pre-Show Anxiety in Vienna

      I feel stressed about our concerts in Vienna.

      Gustavo Dudamel rehearses
      The LA Phil rehearses Mahler's Ninth at the world-famous Wiener Musikverein in Vienna, where Mahler himself performed.

      The last time we played for an Austrian audience was in Salzburg, 1992. We were invited by Gérard Mortier, the new Artistic Director of the Salzburg Festival, to spend a month in residence and perform a series of concerts, including Olivier Messiaen's six-hour opera "Saint François d'Assise". For our opening concert, the first piece that we played for the Salzbergers was Johann Strauss' "Emperor Waltz". Esa-Pekka Salonen intended it as a thank you, an homage, to Austria and Austrians.

      It was greeted with boos.

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      Musical and Restaurant Adventures in Budapest

      It's 11 a.m. and I'm already all out of khazookies.

      Hungarian dessert
      Some Hungarian dessert delights, costing 350 'khazookies,' according to Jim Wilt's system of currency exchange - or about $1.75.

      Last night we'd blown them all on a terrific Hungarian meal of traditional goulash soup and duck. Maybe a bottle (or two) of wine. There was a great trio of musicians playing Romani (or what used to be called "Gypsy") music on the violin, cimbalom and bass. The violinist was particularly impressive, laying down ridiculously technical passages with precision, clarity and panache. I noticed our waitress, Brigette, standing transfixed in front of them while not tending to her tables. Always a sucker for a pretty face, I called her over and asked whether she was a musician because she was listening so intently.

      "No, I keep hoping they will play my favorite piece. The Opera Phantom."

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      When Do We Clap?

      The final measures of the Mahler 9th symphony seem to linger on to eternity...and beyond. The marking in the score is "Eberst langsam," which means almost as slow as humanly possible, and finally, the last measure is "esterbend," or "dying." Maestro Dudamel has been holding onto the moment for as long as both he, the orchestra, and the audience could endure.

      The orchestra stands as they acknowledge the audience's applause in Budapest.

      The patrons last night in Budapest simply would not start to applaud for fear of breaking a magical spell that had been cast by the great performance. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the applause began and would never let up until the orchestra began to leave the stage.

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      To Trunk or Not To Trunk?

      This blog entry isn’t about any particularly cool city on this tour. They are all cool. It is instead about getting my viola from point A to point B. As members of the Philharmonic we have two options with regards to our instruments. We can hand carry our instruments or we can “trunk” them. If we hand-carry them it means that we have them with us at every turn. Can you imagine the overhead bin space on a trans-Atlantic flight if over 100 musicians hand carried their instruments? Besides, that's not really an option for cellists, bassists or percussion players anyway.

      Orchestra's Viola case
      Violist Mick Wetzel's instrument - he 'trunked it' on the first leg of this tour after agonizing over the decision.

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