Ten things you may not know about “The Mahler Project”

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
News

 

By now (certainly if you’re a regular reader of my Blog),
you know that the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s “Mahler Project” begins this
weekend in Walt Disney Concert Hall. Gustavo Dudamel will lead the Phil on Jan.
13, 14 and 15 in Mahler’s Symphony No. 4, with Miah Persson as soloist, and Songs of a Wayfarer, with Thomas Hampson
as soloist.

 

Tickets are still on sale for all concerts, although some
performances have limited availability. Best bets are the Simn Bolivr
Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela’s performances of Nos. 3, 5, and 7, the L.A.
Phil’s performance of No. 6 on Jan. 27, and the Toyota Symphony For Youth event
on Jan. 28. Information on the availability of senior and student rush tickets
for all concerts can be obtained beginning at noon on the day of each
performance by calling audience services (323/850-2000).

 

My column from last Sunday (HERE) detailed the basics of
this cycle, which will include 17 performances in 24 days in Los Angeles and a
complete re-do in Caracas, Venezuela immediately thereafter. However, here are
some things you may not know or realize about this effort:

 

1. Schedule juggling

The Phil will be playing the four weekend sets of concerts
(Symphony Nos. 4, 1, 6, 9 and the Adagio
from the 10th). The SBSOV will perform its four solo concerts (Nos. 2, 3, 5 and
7) within an eight-day period beginning Jan. 22. That means Dudamel will
occasionally be rehearsing one program in the daytime and conducting a
different one in the evening.

 

2. Conducting from
memory

According to an article by Mark Swed in the Los Angeles Times (LINK), Dudamel is
planning on conducting the entire cycle without scores. That includes the two
pieces he’s never conducted in concert: Symphony No. 8 and the Adagio from the Symphony No. 10.

 

3. The Dudamel-Mahler
connection

Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 was on the first professional
program that Dudamel conducted (at age 16) with what was then called the The
Simn Bolivr Youth Symphony Orchestra. The work also concluded his inaugural
Disney Hall concert as the L.A. Phil’s music director in 2009. Mahler’s
Symphony No. 5 was the piece with which Dudamel won the Gustav Mahler
Conducting Competition in Bamberg, Germany in 2004. When the SBYSO made its
Disney Hall in 2007, Mahler’s 5th was on one of the programs;
Dudamel and the orchestra also recorded it.

 

4. Symphony of 1,600

Much has been made of the fact that, for one of the few
times in history, the performance of Symphony No. 8 on Feb. 4 at the Shrine
Auditorium will actually achieve its’ nickname, “Symphony of a Thousand” (both
orchestras and more than 800 singers from 16 Southern California choruses will
perform). Reports are that the Caracas concert on Feb. 18 will be even larger,
with perhaps 1,600 musicians performing. That is also the performance that will
be telecast into movie theaters throughout the United States as part of the LA
Phil LIVE” series. The Phil has just announced that John Lithgow will host the telecast.

 

5. Telecast encore

Speaking of that telecast, this will mark the first time
that one of the “LA Phil LIVE” telecasts will have an encore showing, on Wed.,
Feb. 29 at 7 p.m. (PST). Several Southland theaters are on board for both
telecasts.  Information: www.laphil.com

 

6. Lectures –
preconcert and otherwise

Each of the concerts (except the Mahler 8 performance on
Feb. 4) will have preconcert lectures. Among the presenters will be:

Stephen Heflig
(Jan. 13-15), professor of musicology at Case Western Reserve University, who
wrote his doctoral dissertation at Yale on Mahler and later rediscovered
Mahler’s manuscript version of Das Lied
von der Erde
for voices and piano.

Gilbert Kaplan
(Jan. 19-22), the founder of the Institutional
Investor
who eventually sold the magazine for $72 million and set out to
make himself THE authority on Mahler’s Resurrection
Symphony. Kaplan taught himself
to conduct and eventually led the symphony in several cities. His Kaplan
Foundation is dedicated to Mahler and Kaplan owns the autograph score of the
second symphony.

Norman Lebrecht
(Jan. 26-28), a controversial British author who now publishes his own Blog, Slipped Disc. Among his 12 books are Mahler Remembered and Why Mahler?

Marilyn McCoy
(Jan. 31, Feb. 2 and 3), another noted Mahler scholar, who teaches at Columbia
University.

 

Kaplan’s lectures are open to the public even if you’re not
planning on attending the concerts. They will be in the main Disney Hall
auditorium 90 minutes before the concerts on Jan. 19-22. Reserve ahead of time
(323/850-2000 or via email to information@laphil.org with “Mahler Project RSVP”
in the subject line) and plan on arriving at least 15 minutes before the
lecture time. The other lectures will be in BP Hall, the normal spot for L.A.
Phil preconcert talks, and are open to concert ticket holders.

 

The Phil is also sponsoring “Aloud at Central Library,” a
convocation featuring Lebrecht and L.A. Phil President and CEO Deborah Borda,
on Jan. 23 at 7 p.m. in the downtown Central Library. Information: www.laphil..com

 

7. The “Project”
could have been larger

Mahler composed other symphonic works that aren’t being
included in the Phil’s survey. The most notable is Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth), a lengthy
six-movement work that was written in 1908-09, two years after Mahler completed
his eighth symphony.

 

The title page calls it Eine
Symphonie fr eine Tenor- und eine Alt- (oder Bariton-) Stimme und Orchester
(nach Hans Bethges “Die chinesische Flte”) — A Symphony for Tenor
and Alto (or Baritone) Voice and Orchestra (after Hans Bethge‘s ‘The Chinese
Flute’”)
but Mahler did not call it his Symphony No. 9. One reason may
be that Mahler was unwilling to buck the “Curse of the Ninths” — no major
composer since Beethoven had successfully completed more than nine symphonies
before dying (Bruckner actually died while writing his ninth). Mahler
eventually went on to write a Symphony No. 9 but did, in fact, die before
completing his Symphony No. 10.

 

Another possibility for inclusion might have been Blumine (flower piece), which was originally
the second movement of Symphony No. 1. Mahler eventually discarded Blumine after the third performance of
the first symphony (in Weimar in 1894) and Blumine
lay undiscovered until 1966. Despite Mahler having discarded it, in recent
years a few conductors have played it as part of a Symphony No. 1 performance
and others have conducted it as a stand-alone piece.

 

8. “Bolivars” extras

In addition to their symphony performances, members of the
SBSOV will participate in Toyota Symphony for Youth concerts on Jan. 21 and 28,
in a chamber music performance on Jan. 29, and in a free Neighborhood Concert
on Jan. 25 at Cal State LA’s Luckman Fine Arts Complex.

 

9. YOLA concert

The Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles (YOLA), the Phil’s first
effort at duplicating Venezuela’s “El Sistema” program of youth music education
in Los Angeles, will join with members of the SBSOV (the flagship ensemble of
“El Sistema”) in a family concert on Jan. 30 at Cathedral of Our Lady of the
Angeles in downtown Los Angeles.

 

10. And finally …

If all this is too much Mahler for you, Steve Reich, the
Bang-On-A-Can All Stars, and red fish blue fish will play a concert that’s
about as far from Mahler as you can get on Jan. 17 at Disney Hall. The program
includes one of Reich’s seminal works: Music
for 18 Musicians.
Information: www.laphil.com

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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