OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony at Walt Disney Concert Hall

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

Simn Bolivr
Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor

Mahler: Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection)

Sunday, January 22, 2012 Walt Disney Concert Hall

Next performance: Tomorrow at 8 p.m.

Mahler: Symphony No. 3; Dudamel and SBSOV

Information: www.laphil.com

______________________

 

I doubt that words (at least my words) can adequately
describe what happened last night at Walt Disney Concert Hall … which won’t
prevent me from trying!

 

Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection)
has a way of rendering listeners speechless. Part of it is the sheer
audacity that one man could actually write such a monumental piece of music: 90
minutes (almost to the second last night), five movements dealing with death,
resurrection and plenty in between. Six years transpired between the time Mahler
began the piece and completed it. He struggled to find inspiration for every
movement beyond the first. He didn’t find his way in the final movement until
he attended the funeral of conductor Hans von Bulow.

 

Assembling the forces that Mahler called for is a huge
undertaking for any organization. Among other things, the score calls for 10
(!) horns, 6 trumpets, 2 harps, organ, a large percussion section that includes
three timpanists playing two sets of tympani, two soloists and a large chorus
(last night 92 members of the Los Angeles Master Chorale).

 

For this performance — part of the Los Angeles
Philharmonic’s “Mahler Project” — the Simn Bolivr Symphony Orchestra of
Venezuela bulged the stage with more than 150 musicians, which included 12
basses (stretched to the back of the stage), 17 cellos and more violins and
violas than I could count. The percussionists were so crammed together that the
cymbals player had to be careful not to KO the bass drummer. In the midst of
all of them was a cameraman focusing on Gustavo Dudamel transmitting to an
offstage band that includes brass and timpani.

 

The SBSOV is the flagship ensemble of Venezuela’s “El
Sistema” music education program (it used to be called the SB “Youth” SOV but
many of the “youth” have stayed on to play as the orchestra has gained
international renown during the past decade). Nonetheless, most of the
musicians appeared to still be very young (the group’s bio says the ages are
between 18 and 28).

 

Dudamel has been the group’s music director for 13 years
(since age 18) and he clearly has a special relationship with the musicians.
For one thing, his conducting style seems different with the SBSOV than with
the LA Phil; the responses of the “kids” to his downbeats seemed almost delayed
although in nearly all cases they were razor-sharp. The strings had a lean
sound, the brass gleamed throughout the performance and the winds were
striking. When playing all out, they could storm heaven (there’s lots of that
in this symphony) but in the tender moments they could achieve breathtaking
pianissimos. Although not quite as polished as the Phil, this is an exemplary
orchestra, especially considering the age of its members.

 

Conducting without a score (an amazing feat in itself,
although he’s not the only conductor to do so), Dudamel began with stately
tempos that began to broaden out as the second pass at the opening statement
unfolded. At the end of the first movement, Dudamel ignored what program
annotator John Henken says are Mahler’s “firm instructions to pause for at
least five minutes before launching the Andante.”
Dudamel waited two minutes, just long enough for latecomers to climb into
their seats, the orchestra to retune, and the two soloists to come onstage.

 

Dudamel took the Andante,
which is cast in the form of an Austrian Lndler (folk dance), deliberately
in contrast to the third movement, which he led with a brisk, almost jaunty
air. Mezzo-soprano Christianne Stotijn sang the fourth movement, Urlicht (Primal Light), with rich tones
and great sensitivity, and her duet with the principal oboe was exquisite. The
marvelously soft ending made the transition to the final movement all the more
shattering.

 

Dudamel was at his most compelling leading the
40-minute-long final movement with its Gross
Appell (Great Call)
from offstage brass that eventually leads to the
chorus, which sang their hushed opening lines, Aufersteh’n, ja aufersteh’n (Rise again, yet rise again), while
seated. Dudamel had all the men of the Master Chorale in the middle surrounded
by the female sections and the resultant tone had a deeply rich ring to it.
Soprano Miah Persson joined her radiant voice with Stotijn and, with the chorus
now on its feet and the Disney Hall organ adding impressive heft, the finale
was a majestic, glorious celebration of resurrection and eternal life.

 

In his erudite preconcert lecture, Gilbert Kaplan described
Mahler as a conductor who demanded that his orchestras treat every performance
as an unparalleled event, that everything be so compelling that the audience would
leave walking on air. Dudamel and the musicians did their parts and the
audience responded with an instant — and well deserved — standing ovation that
lasted 10 minutes and would have gone on longer if Dudamel had not led the
musicians off the stage. After all, in less than 48 hours, they will back for
Mahler’s Symphony No. 3, which is even longer than the second!

_______________________

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

Although it’s cold and flu season (and there was
occasional hacking to be heard) there were also many moments when the hall was
so silent that even breathing was muted,; it’s part of what makes the Disney
Hall acoustics so special.

Kaplan’s hour-long preconcert lecture was well attended;
there were many more people in the hall than for Friday night’s concert talk.
It was obvious many had not attended the Symphony No. 1+10 concert lecture
because Kaplan’s opening “Peanuts” cartoon and punch line that Peppermint Patty
had been “Mahlered” got a big laugh (again). Although some of the material was “resurrected”
from the earlier talk, this was another informative and well-delivered lecture,
with good graphics and musical selections.

Both Kaplan lectures had been open to those not attending
the concerts but the Phil’s management could not say how many people took
advantage of the offer.

_______________________

 

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

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OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Los Angeles Philharmonic opens “The Mahler Project” at Walt Disney Concert Hall

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor

Mahler: Songs of a
Wayfarer;
Symphony No. 4

Friday, January 13, 2012 Walt Disney Concert Hall

Next performances: Tonight at 8, tomorrow at 2 p.m.
Preconcert lectures one hour before each concert.

Information: www.laphil.com

______________________

 

The Los Angeles Philharmonic’s “Mahler Project,” which began
last night at Walt Disney Concert Hall, will ooze grandiose power during the
next 16 performances. Last night, however, Music Director Gustavo Dudamel
reminded everyone that there’s another, more lyrical side to the Austrian
composer/conductor, as well. One thing seems certain: if the quality of future
performances match last night’s, it’s going to be a very special three-plus
weeks in the City of the Angels.

 

Another interesting aspect of the “Project” is that — as is
the case when you experience Wagner’s Der
Ring des Nibelungen
as a cycle (i.e., four operas with the span of a week
or so) — hearing all of Mahler’s symphonies plus a song cycle in close
proximity to each other will help listeners link ties and themes (Wagner called
them leitmotivs) from one piece to
another.

 

Case in point was that song cycle – Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer), or Songs of a Wayfaring Journeyman, as
preconcert lecturer Stephen Hefling called it — which opened the proceedings
last night. This was Mahler’s first mature work and many of its themes appear
in later pieces. For example, themes from the second song (I Went Over the Field This Morning) and the melancholy “funeral
march” of the final song, (The Two Blue
Eyes of My Beloved)
show up again in Symphony No. 1 (the funeral march was
the first of many that Mahler would write).

 

The cycle’s four poems (Mahler wrote both the texts and
music) are from a 23-year-old man experiencing his first passionate love (with
a soprano named Johanna Richter) and they depict the wide range of emotions
that would permeate all of Mahler’s later works. Baritone Thomas Hampson
matched Mahler’s moods with his sensitive singing that was notable both for its
shimmering quality and pathos. Dudamel and the orchestra accompanied
sensitively.

 

Symphony No. 4 is the closest that Mahler came to a standard
four-movement symphony format, although whether any work that begins with
sleigh bells and concludes with a song that references asparagus, a slain ox
and 11,000 martyred virgins can be called “standard” is, of course, open to
question.

 

Dudamel — who as was the case with Songs of a Wayfarer, conducted Symphony No. 4 without a score –
elicited a probing, urgent, scintillating performance from the Philharmonic. He
stretched tempos, but not overly so. The restatement of the opening-movement
theme was wonderfully majestic, and Principal Concertmaster Martin Chalifour’s
solos on his “other” violin (in the second movement, Mahler called for a solo
violin tuned higher than normal to simulate a country fiddler) were sparkling.

 

Dudamel was really in his element in the grand Adagio, building the section’s opening
theme beginning with cellos and then adding violas, second violins and first
violins, all while Principal Oboist Ariana Ghez and Principal Horn Andrew Bain
were inserting exquisite solos. (It’s worth noting that Dudamel’s seating
arrangement this season — with violas far right and all of the violins
clustered on the left really paid dividends in this movement.) The young
Venezuelan (he turns age 32 in a couple of weeks) also kept dynamics in check
so well that the big E-major chord really exploded off the stage.

 

Swedish soprano Miah Persson (who will also solo in the Jan.
22 performance of the Ressurection Symphony)
came onstage before the third movement last night and sat quietly within the
orchestra (in front of the winds). She then moved front and center for her fourth-movement
poem, Heavenly Life, which she sang
with opulent radiance. The ending was as wistfully quiet as I can remember
hearing, an effect that will show up again to conclude the Ninth Symphony in
early February. Between now and then, it looks like we’re in for quite a ride.

_______________________

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

Hefling — professor of music at Case Western Reserve
University in Cleveland — delivered an excellent, albeit academic, lecture
before the concert. Unfortunately, many of his projections were unreadable from
the back of the room and the screen should have been higher (he kept
highlighting things at the bottom of the images that couldn’t be seen through
people’s heads). Nonetheless, it was an insightful lecture that had a real
bonus: selections of Mahler playing portions of his songs via 1905 piano rolls.

Considering that most of Mahler’s symphonies stretch more
than 75 minutes in length, the Phil’s decision to insert an intermission
between the 20-minute song cycle and the 59-minute symphony seemed a bit
strange going in. However, aside from allowing the Phil to rack up bucks with
booze sales, the decision also gave listeners a chance to savor the exquisite
performance from Hampson and the Phil before tackling the symphony.

The printed program, which covers all the “Mahler Project”
concerts, lists the Adagio from
Symphony No. 10 following Symphony No. 1 in next weekend’s concerts. That makes
sense from a bookend point of view but how this will play out in performance
will be one of the intriguing aspects of the concerts. Dudamel may not hold to
the printed schedule — in previous seasons, he has occasionally reordered works
after putting them into rehearsal.

Take note: Friday is a “Casual Friday” concert, which
means that the Adagio from Symphony
No. 10 will not be played. Usually this format includes a musician talking
before the performance, a Q&A (which often includes Dudamel), following the
performance, and a reception with musicians in the downstairs caf afterwards.

Next week’s Mahler No. 1 preconcert lectures by Gilbert
Kaplan begins at 6:30 p.m. (90 minutes before the concert). The
preconcert lecture by Kaplan in advance of Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection) will begin at 6 p.m. on Jan. 22. Both lectures will
be in the main auditorium (not BP Hall) and can also be attended by those
without concert tickets. 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.

 _______________________

 

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

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Five-Spot: What caught my eye on January 12, 2012

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

Each Thursday morning, I list five events (six this week)
that pique my interest, including (ideally) at least one with free admission
(or, at a minimum, inexpensive tickets). Here’s today’s grouping:

______________________

 

Tonight at 8 p.m.
at Royce Hall (UCLA)

Paul Jacobs, organist

Despite being just 34, Paul Jacobs is one of America’s
extraordinary organ talents, who came to international renown 11 years ago when
he performed the complete organ works of J.S. Bach in an 18-hour non-stop
marathon performance. Later he performed the complete organ works of Olivier
Messiaen in nine-hour marathon concerts around the country. At age 26, he was
named chairman of the organ department at The Juilliard School in New York
City, one of the youngest faculty appointments in that school’s history.

 

There’s no Bach on this Royce Hall program, but the
selections include music by Messiaen, Elgar, John Weaver and others.

 

Royce Hall’s E.M. Skinner organ was built in 1930. It was
restored and rebuilt after being damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake.
With 104 ranks and 6,600 pipes, it’s one of the larger instruments in Southern
California.

 

Concert information: www.uclalive.org

 

Tomorrow and
Saturday at 8 p.m. Sunday at 2 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Los Angeles
Philharmonic: “The Mahler Project” begins

The Los Angeles Philharmonic begins its massive survey of
all of Gustav Mahler’s symphonies as Gustavo Dudamel leads the orchestra in
Mahler’s Symphony No. 4, with soprano Miah Persson as soloist, and Songs of a Wayfarer, featuring baritone
Thomas Hampson. Links to my articles on the cycle are HERE and HERE. The Phil’s
“Mahler Project” information site is HERE. Concert
information:
www.laphil.com

 

Saturday at 2 p.m.
and 8 p.m. in Ambassador Auditorium (Pasadena)

Pasadena Symphony;
David Lockington, conductor

The PSO resumes its 2011-12 season as David Lockington,
music director of the Modesto and Grand Rapids Symphonies, become the latest in
a string of PSO guest conductors. He leads a program with a British theme: The Gale of Life by British composer
Philip Sawyers, Elgar’s Cello Concerto, with Andrew Shulman as soloist, and
Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3 (Scottish). In
addition to the compositional British tone, Lockington and Shulman are English.
A link to my preview story on this concert and next weekend’s L.A. Chamber
Orchestra concerts (Shulman is conducting the LACO programs) is HERE. Concert information: www.pasadenasymphony-org

 

Looking for a marketing edge, the PSO has joined forces with
Breakthru Fitness to sponsor a Yoga class tomorrow at 6 p.m. (As the late,
great British comedienne Anna Russell once famously said of Wagner’s Ring, “I’m not making this up, you
know!”) Lockington, an avid practitioner of yoga, will offer a brief
explanation on the influence yoga has made on his life and career as a
symphonic conductor. He will also play the cello during the class. Space is
extremely limited; contact Breakthru Fitness at 626/396-1700 to reserve a spot.

 

Sunday at 5 p.m. at
the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (Los Angeles)

Young Musician
Foundation’s 57th annual Gala Concert

Usually a YMF concert would be in the “free admission”
category, but this one is held yearly to raise funds for this important
training program. Legendary film composer John Williams will lead the YMF Debut
Orchestra in selections from The
Adventures of Tintin
and War Horse, the
first concert performance of this music. Williams will conclude the program by
conducting music from E.T. The
Extra-Terrestrial.

 

Michael Tilson Thomas, who was the YMF’s music director from
1963-67 while he was a student at USC, will return to conduct Ravel’s La Valse. Other pieces will be conducted
by David Kaufman, Joey Newman and Teddy Abrams. Information: www.ymf.org

 

Tuesday at 8 p.m.
at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Steve Reich;
Bang-on-a-Can All Stars; ref fish blue fish; percussionist David Cossin

Steve Reich, one of the greatest composers working today,
brings a program to the Phil’s Green
Umbrella
series that includes the West Coast premiere of the double-rock
quintet, 2 x 5,  and concludes with one of Reich’s
seminal works, Music for 18 Musicians.
Information: www.laphil.com

 

And the weekend’s
“free admission” program …

 

Saturday at 8 p.m.
at La Mirada Theater for the Performing Arts (La Mirada)

La Mirada Symphony;
Robert Frelly, conductor

For the second concert of its 48th season, this
community orchestra presents a Spanish-themed program with music by Fannin,
Chabrier, Bizet, Turnia, and Rimsky-Korsakov. Guitarist Jeff Cogan will be the
soloist in Rodrigo’s Fantasia para un
Gentilhombre.
Information: www.lamiradasymphony.com

_______________________

 

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

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AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Here comes “The Mahler Project”

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

 A shorter verion of this article
published today in the above papers.

 

By any standard, the numbers are as gargantuan as a Mahler
symphony: More than 800 choristers from 16 different ensembles. Over 700
minutes of music. 200+ instrumentalists. 17 performances over a 24-day period.
Nine soloists. Nine symphonies plus a portion of a 10th and one song
cycle. Two orchestras. Two concert halls. One composer. One conductor.

 

Those are just some of the numbers for the Los Angeles
Philharmonic’s “Mahler Project,” which will run from January 13 through
February 5 at Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Shrine Auditorium in Los
Angeles. The sweeping enterprise will commemorate the 100th
anniversary of the death of the great Austrian composer-conductor Gustav Mahler
(which actually took place on May 18, 1911).

 

Gustavo Dudamel — music director of the two orchestras
participating in this extravaganza, the L.A. Phil and the Simn Bolivr
Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela — will lead every performance. The Bolivrs
will play four of the symphonies and the L.A. Phil will play five (including
the Adagio, the only section of
Symphony No. 10 that Mahler completed before he died). To conclude the cycle,
the two ensembles will combine and join more 800 choristers and eight soloists
for the Symphony No. 8 on Feb. 4 at the Shrine Auditorium, one of the few times
in history when that work’s subtitle, “Symphony of a Thousand,” will be fact as
well as appellation.

 

Moreover, the above numbers don’t tell the full story. Following
the Feb. 5 concert, both orchestras will pack up and head to Caracas, Venezuela
where they will perform the entire cycle again: nine concerts in 12 days.
Altogether more than 60,000 people will view the 27 performances lives, plus many
thousands more in movie theatres when the Caracas performance of “Symphony of a
Thousand” is telecast on Feb. 18.

 

The “Project” (not exactly why the Phil used that word but
it’s better than yet another “festival”) begins Jan. 13, 14 and 15 in Disney
Hall when Dudamel — who will turn age 31 during the cycle on January 26 — will
lead the L.A. Phil and soprano Miah Persson in Mahler’s Symphony No. 4. Also on
the program is Songs of a Wayfarer,
with Thomas Hampson as soloist.

 

The following weekend (Jan. 19, 20 and 21), Dudamel and the
L.A. Phil will perform Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 and the Adagio from Symphony No. 10. The first symphony has significant
memories for Dudamel. It was the first big symphonic piece he conducted (at age
16) and was also part of his first Disney Hall concert as LAPO music director
in 2009.

 

For complete information on “The Mahler Project,” log onto
www.laphil.com.

 

Tuesday: “Ten
Things You Might Not Know About the Mahler Project”

_______________________

 

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

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