Gustav, Gustavo and Me

I took a few days off because of my singing schedule, and you wouldn’t BELIEVE how good it feels to say that!  Well, upward and onward in the Mahler 8th journal.  (You’ll notice I changed the title slightly.  Alliteration’s artful aid.)

Our second rehearsal was also with Grant Gershon (see previous post), but included both adult choirs and the children’s choir.  We met at Lake Avenue Congregational Church, in Pasadena.  It’s a lovely church, with a truly beautiful organ (minds out of the gutter, please) and, more to the point, it’s huge.  We began to get an idea of what the distance-from-the conductor problem would be.  You have to watch like a hawk searching for lunch not only to see the conductor, but to slightly anticipate him because light travels faster than sound.  I remember that from high school, and finally, a practical application.  The pictures attached show three views from the sanctuary, and one from the balcony.

Rehearsal Lake Ave. Church - Sanctuary

Lake Ave. Church Rehearsal from the Balcony

Rehearsal Lake Ave. Church Sanctuary

We also began to get a sense of the logistics of seating.  Kathie Freeman is Grant’s assistant, and it’s one of her jobs to create the seating chart.  Kathie should be up for sainthood because any usable seating chart is going to constitute at least two—and possibly all three—necessary miracles.  She’s also in charge of giving announcements (“Remember, even if we meet in the Dorothy Chandler, we park at Disney Hall”), warnings (“Please don’t wear scent of any kind…”), and time checks (“Ten minutes…five minutes…places please”).  All this has to be done through a microphone.

There is also the matter of distributing parking passes, travel instructions, maps (this is Los Angeles, remember) and other bits of arcana.  I’m collecting them for a scrapbook.  It includes a sign designating where the Choir I, Sopranos II should sit.  I did say arcana…

Despite all the difficulties the rehearsal was, once again, amazing.  You’re going to get tired of that sentiment, but I’m not sure how else to describe a mind-blowing, sensory-overload, just plain luscious musical experience.  And it’s only the second rehearsal.  We have five more, plus the dress.

And of course, the performance.  More in a day or so.

Procedural note:  I’m trying to keep up with the rehearsals so I can write about the performance as soon as possible after it takes place.  I’m way behind of course.  But after this I’ll be blogging about once a week, unless something huge happens.


Mahler, Gustavo and Me

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.