My first blog! Welcome. I’m kicking off with a journal of the rehearsals and performance of Gustav Mahler’s monumental Symphony No. 8, the “Symphony of a Thousand,” with Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. This is part of the Mahler Project, which runs during January and February 2012.
The choral forces are drawn from 15 LA-based choirs, including All Saints Church, Pasadena, where I’m in Canterbury Choir. More on them in a future blog. Other choirs are the LA Master Chorale, the Pacifica Chorale, the Gay Men’s Chorus, Vox Femina, and the National Children’s Chorus. Total singers: 826. There is also a double quartet of soloists. Total soloists: eight. The orchestras are the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Simón Bolivar Orchestra of Venezuela (which used to be the Simón Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela). Total orchestra: 300+. There will be over 1,050 performers on the stage of the Shrine Auditorium on February 4, 2012. It’s one of the few places in town that can accommodate that many people. After the performance, Dudamel will head back to Caracas with the Bolivars to perform it again, with over 1,600 people! He’s out of his mind.
Our first rehearsal was at the Great Hall of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, which is the opera house. It’s my idea of the perfect venue for rehearsals: rugs on the floor, marble all around and glittering crystal chandeliers overhead. It was nighttime, but the floor-to-ceiling windows showed a lovely view of the plaza of the Music Center. There was a camera crew filming a documentary on the making of the performance.
Only Choir 1 was there, that is half of the adults, and we filled the place to capacity; Choir 2 rehearsed the following night. Our conductor was Grant Gershon, Music Director of the LA Master Chorale, and Choirmaster of the LA Opera. It’s hard to imagine someone more completely dedicated to his work, and who enjoys it more. Anyone who doesn’t draw energy just from being around him is dead. Even though the 60 members of Canterbury Choir who were singing were scattered among the sections—and every section is divided into firsts and seconds and sometimes thirds—I was among friends, new friends in this case: several ladies of the Philippine Chamber Singers.
The rehearsal was 2½ hours long, and I wouldn’t have believed we could have worked in that much detail and yet gotten through the whole thing. For those of you familiar with Mahler, you’ll know what that entails. For those of you who are not—let’s just say he doesn’t just write brief, bright little pieces. And for those of you who have sung Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, which I have, if you thought the sustained high A for the sopranos in the “Ode to Joy” was hard, Mahler gives us high B-flats, Bs and one long, sustained high C. Mahler was out of his mind.
By the end of the rehearsal I (a) had all my trouble spots marked (more than I thought, alas); (2) was high from the breathing and the music; and (iii) couldn’t wait for the next rehearsal. More next time.