STORY AND LINKS: On the road with the L.A. Phil in Venezuela

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

 

NOTE:  I have reordered the posts by date (I think), separated them by media outlet, and added a new post from Mark Swed (Los Angeles Times) this afternoon.

Although the name “El Sistema,” the landmark music program that nurtured Gustavo Dudamel, now music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, has become increasingly well known around the world, most of the stories have focued on Dudamel and the programs that organizations such as the L.A. Phil are launching in the U.S. to emulate the Venezuelan system.

 

With the Phil in Caracas this week for a repeat of its
“Mahler Project” cycle from last month in Los Angeles, both Mark Swed of the Los Angeles Times and Daniel J. Wakin of
the New York Times are in Venezuela
providing reports not only on the concerts but mostly on the local aspects of
“El Sistema” and its impact on the hundreds of thousands of students who are
part of the program.”

 

Following are the stories published so far:


(Los Angeles Times):

Gustavo Dudamel and the L.A. Phil start things in Caracas

Caracas
diary: A sweet Mahler’s Fourth and Dudamel-mania

Meeting the Youngest Musicians of El Sistema

Even Dudamel is wowed by huge Mahler rehearsal

L.A. Phil musicians get to know
the Venezuelans

Dudamel, Abreu and a multitude of young musicians

(New York Times):

Mahler Is O.K., but Gustavo, He’s Amazing

In Caracas, doubling up the orchestra

Fighting Poverty, Armed with Violins

A musical exchange in Venezuela:
El Sistema performs for the L.A. Philharmonic

(Associated Press):

Dudamel and L.A. Philharmonic make waves in Caracas
(Sacramento Bee via AP)

_______________________

 

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

OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Crazy 8th concludes the L.A. Phil’s “Mahler Project”

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor

Mahler: Symphony No. 8

Saturday, February 4, 2012 Shrine Auditorium

Next performance:

Today at 2 p.m. Walt Disney Concert Hall

Mahler: Symphony No. 9

Information: www.laphil.com

______________________

 

The numbers for last night’s performance of Mahler’s
Symphony No. 8 at the Shrine Auditorium were impressive: 190 instrumentalists
(91 from the Los Angeles Philharmonic and 99 from the Simn Bolivr Symphony
Orchestra of Venezuela), 813 singers from 16 local choruses (according to a
fact-filled article by David Ng in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times — LINK), eight soloists … and, oh yes, one
31-year-old maestro, Gustavo Dudamel, who was conducting the piece for the
first time.

 

It’s one of the few times that a performance has achieved
the work’s subtitle “Symphony of a Thousand” (a name attached not by Mahler,
who disapproved of it, but Emil Gutmann, promoter of the inaugural performance
on Sept. 12, 1910 in Munich).

 

However, in this case, the numbers don’t really begin to
describe what occurred last night. Picture in your mind the auditorium’s
mammoth stage: more than 100 feet wide by nearly 70 feet deep, large enough
that the Los Angeles Lakers and USC Trojans each have played basketball games
on it.

 

Yet it wasn’t big enough for last night’s performance of
Mahler’s 8th. To shoehorn in 1,000 musicians, the Phil had to build
an extension that doubled the depth of the stage (and reduced the seating
capacity by about 800 seats, to 5,400). The Phil also constructed 18 risers to
accommodate the choristers, who took 10 minutes to get on stage. Gigantic video
screens on the left and right sides of the hall provided images a la Hollywood
Bowl and projected translations of the text.

 

It all looked very impressive and there were many
spine-tingling moments, but at the conclusion I came away with the feeling that
less would have been more.

 

Aside from the massive expense involved, shifting Mahler’s 8th
from Walt Disney Concert Hall (where the other 16 concerts in the Phil’s
“Mahler Project” had been played) to the Shrine meant some serious acoustic
compromises. Although the combined orchestra was heard clearly, the ensembles
often swamped the soloists and the 100+ members of the Los Angeles Children’s
Chorus and National Children’s Chorus in the cavernous Shrine space.

 

Having Dudamel nearly 100 feet away from the back row of
choristers and 50 feet away from the farthest reaches of the instrumentalists
presented some major coordination issues; what’s amazing is how cohesive the
performance sounded most of the time, although were some shaky moments.
Finally, although the electronic organ imported for the performance wasn’t as
weak as the one at Hollywood Bowl when Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted Mahler’s 8th
a few years ago, it paled in comparison to the sound that would been produced
by the Disney Hall pipe organ.

 

Dudamel, who conducted with a score for the first time in
“The Mahler Project,” relied on many of the same propensities in this performance
(which clocked in at about 85 minutes) as he has shown in the other 8.5
symphonies of the three-week-long survey. He slowed tempos in the delicate
moments or when the soloists were singing and put his foot on the pedal as he
propelled the powerful moments forward. Soft passages (especially at the
beginning of the second movement) were ethereal; loud moments hurled
thunderbolts.

 

The opening movement (which is based on the medieval Latin
hymn, Veni Creator Spiritus), opened
and closed with massive walls of sound; the ending was augmented by a large
brass choir perched in one of the old opera boxes to the far left of the stage.
One advantage to a 100-foot-wide stage is that, with the women at the outside
of the risers, the ensemble really sounded like the double chorus that Mahler
wrote for. Considering the difficulty of merging 800+ singers from 16 choruses
(comprised of professional and amateur singers), the ensemble was remarkably
precise for most of the performance. When they were heard, the seven soloists
were uniformly strong (the eighth, soprano Kiera Duffy, doesn’t appear in the
first movement).

 

The second movement, Mahler’s conception of the final scene
from Goethe’s Faust, Part II, opens
with orchestra alone and Dudamel and the instrumentalists captured the
mysterious nature of Mahler’s writing effectively. The only shaky choral
moments came during their soft entrance (for which the singers were seated),
but they rallied smartly as the movement progressed. With a score in front of
him, the need to be ultra-precise with his stick movements, and the worry about
keeping everything together, Dudamel looked less relaxed than he has during the
rest of the “Project” concerts but, with the offstage brass choir again
punctuating the final measures, the movement and the symphony ended in a blaze
of glory, after which The Dude looked as if he was ready to collapse from
exhaustion.

 

One supposes that concluding “The Mahler Project” in this
grandiose manner was a given in a town where Hollywood reigns but, as we
learned last night, more is not always more. Although last night’s performance was a valiant effort by all concerned, let’s hope that is was also a “one-off” performance (well, “two-off,” since it’s being played again on Feb. 18 in Caracas) and that when Dudamel decides to reprise Mahler’s 8th in the future, he will use a single orchestra and 250 or so choristers in Disney Hall. “Symphony of 350″ may not have
the same catchy ring for marketing purposes, but it makes far more musical
sense.

_______________________

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

For the record: the soloists were Manuela Uhl,
Julianna Di
Giacomo
, and Kiera Duffy, sopranos;
 Anna Larsson
and Charlotte
Hellekant
, altos; Burkhard
Fritz
, tenor; Brian
Mulligan
, baritone; and Alexander
Vinogradov
, bass. Fritz was ill but overcame it to sing
solidly.

The choruses were:

Los Angeles
Master Chorale
, Grant Gershon, music director;

Los Angeles
Children’s Chorus
, Anne Tomlinson, artistic director;

Angeles
Chorale
, John Sutton, artistic director and conductor;

Pacific
Chorale
, John Alexander, artistic director;

Gay Men’s
Chorus of Los Angeles
, E. Jason Armstrong, artistic director;

Angel City Chorale, Sue
Fink, artistic director;

Choir of All
Saints Church, Pasadena
, James Walker, director of music;

Chorus of the
Inner City Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles
, Charles Dickerson,
music director and conductor;

Los Angeles
Chamber Choir
, Chung Uk Lee, music director;

Los Robles
Master Chorale
, Lesley Leighton, artistic director;

National
Children’s Chorus
, Luke McEndarfer, artistic director;

Pasadena Pro
Musica
, Stephen Grimm, director;

Pasadena
Master Chorale
, Jeffrey Bernstein, artistic director;

Philippine
Chamber Singers – Los Angeles
, Anthony Angelo Francisco, artistic
director and conductor;

Renaissance
Arts Academy
, Ross Chitwood/Will Johnson, artistic directors;

Vox Femina
Los Angeles
, Iris S. Levine, artistic director.

Gershon served
as overall chorus master.

Some of the choristers wore choir robes, colorful dresses
and other uniforms, which helped break up the “concert black” wall of the other
singing groups.

The evening’s principals were split between the LAPO and
SBSOV. The organist, Pablo Castellanos, was from the Bolivars; Joanne Pearce
Martin, the Phil’s keyboard principal, played piano.

Following this afternoon’s final performance of Symphony
No. 9, everyone decamps to Caracas, Venezuela. Dudamel’s Web site lists the
SBSOV beginning the Venezuela cycle with a performance of Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection) on Feb. 8, followed by
Symphony No. 3 the next day and Symphony No. 5 on Feb. 10. Interestingly, all
of these performances are simply listed as “Caracas,” with no hall given. The
Phil picks up the cycle on Feb. 12 (Symphony No. 1), 13 (No. 4), 14, (No. 6)
and 17 (No. 9), all in the Simn Bolivr Hall in Caracas. The orchestras and
Caracas singers (one report has placed the total number at 1,600) will combine
for Symphony No. 8 on Feb. 18 at Caracas’ Teresa Carreo — that performance
will be telecast in movie theaters throughout the U.S. and Canada as part of
the “LA Phil LIVE” series. Unless Gustavo’s Web site inadvertently omitted it,
Symphony No. 7 won’t be performed in Caracas.

_______________________

 

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

OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Bottom of the 9th for L.A. Phil’s “Mahler Project”

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor

Mahler: Symphony No. 9

Friday, February 3, 2012 Walt Disney Concert Hall

Next performances:

Tonight at 8 Shrine Auditorium

Mahler: Symphony No. 8 (Symphony
of a Thousand)

Information:
www.laphil.com

Tomorrow at 2 p.m. Walt Disney Concert Hall

Mahler: Symphony No. 9

Information:
www.laphil.com

______________________

 

It would certainly be understandable if last night’s
performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 was less than spellbinding.

 

For one thing, Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles
Philharmonic have spent the last month (along with the Simn Bolivr Symphony
Orchestra of Venezuela) performing Mahler’s 9 symphonies (plus a song cycle)
in the Phil’s “Mahler Project.” By the conclusion of tomorrow’s concert,
Dudamel will have led 17 concerts in 24 days, all from memory. And there’s no
rest on the horizon: the orchestras fly to Caracas where they begin the cycle
again on Wednesday (see Hemidemisemiquavers
below for details).

 

This week, the Phil has been sandwiching rehearsals of the 9th
and 8th symphonies between programs (including the 7th
Tuesday night). Yesterday morning, the Phil, SBOV and eight soloists and 800+
choristers spent 2 hours polishing Mahler’s 8th (which plays tonight
at the Shrine Auditorium) about 12 hours after the end of Thursday night’s
performance of Symphony No. 9 and about seven hours before last night’s rendition.

 

 

So the Phil — and in particular, Dudamel — must be verging
on exhaustion but you’d never know it by last night’s performance of Symphony
No. 9. Adrenaline can be a wonderful thing for a performer and it surely must
be driving Gustavo at this point. The orchestra’s playing was astounding — I’m
not sure I’ve ever heard them play better.

 

Much has been said and written about this last symphony that
Mahler completed (click HERE for Herbert Glass’ program note). Like many
commentators, Glass calls it a “farewell symphony,” but preconcert lecturer Dr.
Marilyn McCoy argued (persuasively, I think) that, rather than depicting
sadness, Mahler wrote the piece “with a passionate love of life.”

 

Although by 1907, Mahler had been diagnosed with the heart
condition that would ultimately contribute to his death four years later and
had suffered deaths of many siblings and a daughter, McCoy noted that when
Mahler began writing Symphony No. 9 in 1909, he was in fact in good health and
looking forward to a new season with what would become the New York
Philharmonic, both which call into question (in her mind, at any rate) whether
this was, indeed, a “farewell.”

 

It’s also worth noting when approaching a performance of
Symphony No. 9 that the piece — as do many of Mahler’s works — looks backward
to the last part of the 19th century but is also a precursor to the
music that would come that would come in the 20th. Glass quotes
English composer-musicologist Deryck Cooke as believing “that the overall
structure of the 9th Symphony was influenced by the layout of
Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique Symphony
(1893) with its two huge slow movements surrounding a steady dance and fast
march.” On the other hand, 20th century composers such as Berg,
Schoenberg and Webern were certainly influenced by Mahler’s music (Cooke even
adds Shostakovich to that mix).

 

To that latter list, I would add Bartok. While Mahler wrote
no concertos by name, Symphony No. 9 — to my ears — is as much a Concerto for
Orchestra as it is a symphony. Nearly every principal player and every section
get their moment — sometimes many moments — in the solo spotlight. All were
uniformly brilliant last night, although Principal Horn Andrew Bain has to
merit a special nod for his stellar work. It’s also worth noting that Dudamel
had the wind principals — David Buck, flute; Whitney Crockett, bassoon; Carolyn
Hove, English horn; Adriana Ghez, oboe; and Michelle Zukovsky, clarinet — stand
first for solo bows following the performance.

 

One other takeaway from last night’s performance is how much
Dudamel and the Phil have grown together during the last year. They played this
symphony at about this time in 2011 and then took it on a European tour but
last night’s performance was less edgy and far richer than what we heard last
winter. That kind of artistic growth bodes well for the future.

 

Dudamel seemed to adopt the positive outlook espoused by
McCoy about the symphony. His tempos were often vigorous, but never rushed
tempos in the performance, which clocked in last night at 87 minutes. Although
I don’t usually compare performance timings, last night’s concert finished a
minute under the recording that Carlo Maria Giulini made with the Chicago
Symphony in 1976. Even that is somewhat misleading, since Dudamel waited about
a minute after the first movement ended for latecomers to be seated and 35 seconds
elapsed from the time the final note “melted into the ethereal blue” (to use
Bruno Walter’s evocative description) and the standing ovation began (it wasn’t
really 35 seconds of silence due to a good deal of coughing, but impressive
nonetheless).

 

The first three movements were quite propulsive at least
compared to Giulini’s recording. The first movement last night was particularly
noteworthy for the burnished sound from the entire brass section. Dudamel paced
the second movement’s Lndler (an
Austrian folk dance) with stately grandeur while the intruding rustic village
dances were more pulsating (Mahler called for them to be “heavy footed”). The
third movement’s outer sections were brisk, while the inner portion — which
looks forward to the final movement Adagio
– was lushly expansive.

 

In the final movement, with echoes of Symphony No. 3′s
finale, the strings poured out luxurious sound and the interplay between
strings, Crockett and Bain was magical. Incidentally, last night’s final
movement took four minutes longer than did Giulini — something I wouldn’t have
realized without checking the recording timing. The entire 29 minutes seemed to
float by gloriously.

 

For those in attendance Thursday night and last night, the
final episode of “The Mahler Project” will be the massive Symphony No. 8 at the
Shrine Auditorium, which is about as far from the 9th as you can
get. However, in some ways, I think those who are concluding with the Symphony
No. 9 on Sunday afternoon at Disney Hall may be ending on a more appropriate
note.

_______________________

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

McCoy proved to be a nice academic bookend to Stephen
Hefling, who began the preconcert lectures what seems like an eon ago with a
discussion of Symphonty No. 4. Hefling and McCoy were quite different in style
from Gilbert Kaplan and Norman Lebrecht but one of the superb aspects of the
entire project was this quartet of lecturers.

Philadelphia Inquirer Music Critic Peter Dobrin is
reporting that Philadelphia Orchestra Principal Trombonist Nitzan Haroz will
join the L.A. Phil in a similar position in August. Haroz has been with the
Philadelphia Orchestra since 1995. (LINK)

The performances of the 9th are being recorded
for future release. Although last night’s performance had a great deal of
coughing, there were no cell phones that went off as occurred seconds after the
conclusion Thursday night.

Dudamel’s Web site lists the SBSOV beginning the Venezuela
cycle with a performance of Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection)
on Feb. 8, followed by Symphony No. 3 the next day and Symphony No. 5 on Feb.
10. Interestingly, all of these performances are simply listed as “Caracas,”
with no hall given. The Phil picks up the cycle on Feb. 12 (Symphony No. 1), 13
(No. 4), 14, (No. 6) and 17 (No. 9), all in the Simn Bolivr Hall in Caracas.
The orchestras (and 800+ singers) will combine for Symphony No. 8 on Feb. 18 at
the Teresa Carreo in Caracas — that performance will be telecast in movie
theaters throughout the U.S. and Canada as part of the “LA Phil LIVE” series.
Unless Gustavo’s Web site inadvertently omitted it, Symphony No. 7 won’t be
performed in Caracas.

_______________________

 

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

Five-Spot: What caught my eye on February 2, 2012

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

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

______________________

 

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

Los Angeles
Philharmonic: Gustavo Dudamel conducts Mahler’s Symphony No. 9

The L.A. Phil’s “Mahler Project” winds up this weekend with
these two concerts and Saturday’s performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 at the
Shrine Auditorium. Information: www.laphil.com

 

Saturday at 8 p.m.
at the Shrine Auditorium

Mahler’s “Symphony of
a Thousand”

Gustavo Dudamel conducts 99 instrumentalists from the Simn
Bolivr Symphony Orchestra and 91 from the Los Angeles Philharmonic, eight
soloists and more than 800 choristers in this performance of Mahler’s Symphony
No. 8 that will live up to its nickname. The concert has been announced as a
sellout for some time; check the Phil’s box office (323/850-2000) for updates. Information: www.laphil.com

 

Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
at Ambassador Auditorium

The Colburn
Orchestra; Yehuda Gilad, conductor

The orchestra’s music director leads a program that
concludes with Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7. Mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke will be the
soloist in “Am I In Your Light” from John Adams’ opera Dr. Atomic and Mahler’s Rckert
lieder.
Information: www.colburnschool.edu

 

And the weekend’s
“free admission” programs

 

Saturday at 7:30
p.m. at Pasadena Presbyterian Church

John Weaver Hymn
Festival

For 35 years, John Weaver was organist/music director at
Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church and also headed the organ departments at the
Curtis Institute and Juilliard School for many years. His program Saturday
night will include him playing pieces he’s written based on hymn tunes; the
audience and the church’s Kirk Choir will sing the hymns. Information: www.ppc.net

 

Sunday at 3 p.m. at
Whittier High School

Rio Hondo Symphony;
Kimo Furumoto, conductor

In a program entitled (somewhat oddly) “No Strings
Attached,” Kimo Furumoto leads the orchestra’s string sections in music by
Vivaldi, Bach, Mozart, Holst and Tchaikovsky. Information: www.riohondosymphony.org

_______________________

 

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

OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Taking the 5th — Gustavo Dudamel and the SBOV 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. 5

Thursday, January 26, 2012 Walt Disney Concert Hall

Next concerts:

Tonight and tomorrow at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m.

Los Angeles Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor

Mahler: Symphony No. 6

Information: www.laphil.com

______________________

 

As I was riding the Gold Line home from last night’s concert
at Walt Disney Concert Hall, I contemplated the difference in audience reaction
to the concerts of “The Mahler Project” played by the Los Angeles Philharmonic
as opposed to those played by the Simn Bolivr Symphony Orchestra of
Venezuela. Both ensembles have received standing ovations for their
performances, but there are LA Phil ovations and then there are those for the
Bolivr “kids.”

 

It’s not that the Bolivrs have played better than the Phil
– close, but not better. Moreover, Gustavo Dudamel (who celebrated his 31st
birthday last night) has conducted every program from memory. The hall has been
packed for each concert, although there were a few more empty seats last night
than for Sunday and Tuesday. Nonetheless, there’s an excitement level to the
reaction to the Bolivrs that palpably exceeds that accorded the Phil.

 

Part of the difference lies in the symphonies played. The
Phil opened two weeks ago with No. 4, the sunniest, shortest and least dramatic
of Mahler’s completed symphonic output. Last weekend, it came back with No. 1
and the Adagio from No. 10, and since
the Thursday and Saturday program concluded with the somber Adagio, that surely dampened the
audience’s enthusiasm. Although the “Casual Friday” concert was just Symphony
No. 1 and did receive a thunderous ovation, the excitement level was diluted
somewhat by the knowledge that a Q&A session (and/or drinks with the orchestra
members) was following.

 

By contrast, the Bolivrs have played three of the five
symphonies with the loudest, most pulsating endings. On Tuesday, they get No. 7
(also with a big finale) and they’ll be part of the combined orchestra that
plays No. 8, the other work that fits this description.

 

Another rationale for the difference in reaction is size.
The Bolivrs are putting about 175 players on stage each night, about 65 more
than the Phil for their performances (the LAPO will play Symphony No. 6 tonight,
tomorrow and Sunday and No. 9 on Feb. 3 and 5 to conclude the cycle). The 96
Bolivr string players equal what would be a large orchestra for almost
anything except Mahler. Size isn’t everything but when the Bolivrs are playing
full force, they can, indeed, make a mighty noise as we have heard to conclude
their three programs, and most in the audiences react.

 

Even with all the caveats, the excitement level for the
Bolivr concerts has been noticeably high than for the Phil. It was also that
way in 2007 when the “kids” made their Disney Hall debut in two concerts that
were among the most exciting I’ve ever attended. Excitement isn’t everything in
a concert, but once again this year it’s been noticeable.

 

Symphony No. 5 was the first symphony Mahler wrote without a
specific programmatic theme and the first since Symphony No. 1 to eschew
soloists or a chorus. The work was begun in 1901 shortly after Mahler nearly
died from an a hemorrhage that program annotator Herbert Glass called
“intestinal” and preconcert lecturer Norman Lebrecht placed slightly lower on
Mahler’s body. Like nearly all of Mahler’s symphonies, this one includes –
indeed, in this case, begins with — a funeral march but it also includes a love
poem to his bride, the famous Adagietto
for strings that Luchino Visconti would appropriate 70 years later as the theme
music for the movie Death in Venice.

 

Mahler 5 is also a piece with which Dudamel and the Bolivrs
are closely identified. They played it on their opening Disney Hall concert in
2007 (and on their subsequent cross-country tour) and later recorded it.

 

Last night was the most cohesive collaboration between
Dudamel and his youthful colleagues during this cycle and the orchestra’s
playing was exemplary. The entire brass section, led by the principal trumpet
and principal horn players, was stunning throughout the performance (the
Bolivrs don’t provide principals lists but since their listing in the program
isn’t alphabetical, I’ll take a guess that these two were Toms Medina and
Rafael Payare — they eminently deserve to be singled out). The strings played
with a rich, unified sound and amazing rhythmic precision (especially
considering their numbers); not only do these folks wield their bows in unison,
they also sway in unison.

 

As he has done in other performances during this cycle
Dudamel continues to emphasize luxuriant tempos. In both the third and fifth
movements, he occasionally got a little too cutesy in his moments of elasticity
but overall this was a smartly paced 74-minute performance that sustained
tension admirably. The Adagietto glided
along with effortless ease and the final movement was less frenetic than what
shows up on the recording or what I remember from the concert four-plus years
ago.

 

Untimately, that adds up to a level of increased maturity
that holds a great deal of promise for succeeding Dudamel years (presumably
many of them) in Los Angeles. At the same time, may he never lose the sense of
excitement that continues to pour out of all of these programs.

_______________________

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

Although it’s not quite as noticeable as the Vienna
Philharmonic, a colleague seated next to me noted that the Bolivrs had just 24
women in the 175 players who were on stage last night, and most of those are in
the string sections. Just two of the 32 brass players were female and none of
the percussionists.

In his preconcert lecture before Symphony No. 1, Gilbert
Kaplan said that he has heard the Adagietto
played in as little as eight minutes and as long as 15. Dudamel was in the
middle: 11 minutes.

Lebrech’s lecture last night was again insightful. He’s on
tap for the lectures on tomorrow and Sunday — arrive early; the crowds have
been overflow. Asadour Santourian, Vice President for Artistic Administration
and Artistic Advisor for the Aspen Music Festival, is listed as giving the
lecture tonight.

_______________________

 

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

Five-Spot: What caught my eye on January 26, 2012

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

Each Thursday morning, I list five events 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
Walt Disney Concert Hall

Simn Bolivr
Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor

Mahler: Symphony No.
5

This was one of the works with which Gustavo Dudamel
introduced Los Angeles to this dynamic orchestra in 2007. Thus, part of the
intrigue will be to see what changes have occurred in Dudamel’s interpretation
and in the orchestra’s playing. The Bolivrs conclude their individual portion
of the cycle on Tuesday with Symphony No. 7 Information: www.laphil.com

 

Tonight at 8 p.m.
at Zipper Hall (The Colburn School)

Los Angeles Chamber
Orchestra’s Baroque Conversations

LACO begins its season of baroque chamber-music programs
when Principal Oboist Alan Vogel leads five of his colleagues and soprano
Elissa Johnston in a program of music by J.S. Bach and Heinrich Ignaz Franz
Bieber. Information: www.laco.org

 

Friday and Saturday
at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m.

Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor

Mahler: Symphony No.
6

The Phil swings back into action with what is perhaps the
darkest of Mahler’s symphonies. Information:
www.laphil.com

 

Saturday at 8 p.m.
at AT&T Center Theatre, Los Angeles

Sunday at 3 p.m.,
First Presbyterian Church, Santa Monica

Musica Angelica:
Pergolesi/Bach: Stabat Mater

Although Giovanni Pergolesi set a version of Stabat Mater, the work is at least as
well known through its German edition when J.S. Bach put different German text
atop Pergolesi’s music (composers during that time were freer about “borrowing”
music both from themselves and others). Martin Hasselbck will lead his
top-notch period-instrument ensemble along with soloists Dame Emma Kirkby,
soprano, and countertenor Daniel Taylor. Sacred arias by Bach and Handel will
fill out the program.

 

The Saturday performance will be the group’s first time in
the AT&T Center Theater in downtown Los Angeles. Old-timers will recognize
this as the old Transamerica Life headquarters. Radio station KUSC 95.1 FM
recently moved to the AT&T Center. Originally used as a conference hall,
the performing space reportedly has been acoustically retrofitted by KUSC to
accommodate small- and medium-size musical groups.

 

Information: www.musicaangelica.org

 

Sunday at 4 p.m. at
Neighborhood Church, Pasadena

Pacific Serenades

For more than a quarter-century, Pacific Serenades has been
known for (a) beginning its season after the New Year holiday and (b)
commissioning new works. The inaugural concert of its 2012 season will feature
its 103rd commissioned work: the world premiere of Different Lanes for string quartet and
iPad by Los Angeles native and Emmy-award winning composer Laura Karpman (the
title refers to five L.A. freeways) The program will also include Beethoven’s
String Quartet in D Major, Op. 18, No. 3, and Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and
Cello (2001).

 

Information:
www.pacser.org

 

And the weekend’s
“free admission” program …

 

Friday at 8 p.m. at
First Church of the Nazarene, Pasadena

Pasadena Community
Orchestra; Alan Reinecke, conductor

PCO opens its 28th season with a program of
Smetna’s Sarka (from Ma Vlast), Mozart’s Symphony No. 39, and
Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2, with Joyce Pan as soloist. Pan is a member
of the orchestra’s violin section; in her “other” life, she’s a technical
director for Dreamworks Animation. Information:
www.pcomusic.org

  

OPERA NOTES

Both Long Beach Opera and San Diego Opera open their seasons
this weekend. Long Beach presents Maria
de Buenos Aires
by Astor Pizzola and Horacio Ferrer on Sunday at 2 p.m. and
Feb. 4 at 8 p.m. at The Warner Grand Theatre in San Pedro. Information: www.longbeachopera.org

 

San Diego Opera begins with Richard Strauss’ Salome, which opens Saturday at 7 p.m.
and also plays Tuesday at 7 p.m., Feb. 3 at 8 p.m. and Feb. 5 at 2 p.m. Lise
Lindstrom sings the title role. Information:
www.sdopera.com

_______________________

 

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

OVERNIGHT REVIEW: 3rd and short: Dudamel and the Bolivars 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. 3

Tuesday, January 24 13, 2012 Walt Disney Concert Hall

Next performance:

Mahler: Symphony No. 5; Dudamel and SBSOV

Tomorrow at 8 p.m.

Information: www.laphil.com

______________________

 

When I’m wearing my music critic hat, I try hard not to
compare performances. Some critics do — it’s just not my style. Inevitably, of
course, what I’ve heard in the past will influence my feelings about how a
piece should sound but when I’m reviewing a concert, I try not to think, “Gosh,
that doesn’t sound like how Giulini, Salonen, Bernstein, etc. conducted it.” Instead, I try to let each performance stand on its own.

 

However, there are a couple of works for which it’s very
hard to block out memory and one of those is Mahler’s Symphony No. 3. One of my
most indelible musical experiences in nearly 60 years of attending concerts was
the first time I heard Zubin Mehta and the Los Angeles Philharmonic play
Mahler’s third in the late 1970s. For many years, I’ve said that if I had one
piece to listen to while I am dying, it would be Mehta and the Phil playing the
finale of this monumental work.

 

Last night at Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Simn Bolivr
Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela came very, very close to matching that standard.
Gustavo Dudamel equaled it.

 

Symphony No. 3 is Mahler’s longest work: 104 minutes last
night — it seemed shorter — in six movements. Mahler originally planned seven
movements but later decided that enough was enough (even for him), and the
seventh section became the finale of Symphony No. 4, instead.

 

Nonetheless, No. 3 is an incredibly complex work. In his
program note, John Mangum quoted Mahler writing, “It’s not really appropriate
to call it a symphony, for it doesn’t stick to the traditional form at all. But
‘symphony’ means to me building a world with all the resources of the available
techniques.” Later he said to Jean Sibelius, “The symphony must be like the
world. It must embrace everything.” Mahler’s early descriptive titles (which he
later discarded) displayed the breadth of his thinking: Summer marches in, What the flowers in the meadow tell me, etc.

 

Mahler scored the symphony for an oversized orchestra and
the Bolivars surely exceeded those expectations. Mark Swed, in his Los Angeles Times review, said the
ensemble numbered about 175 on Sunday and it didn’t look any smaller last
night. There were also 39 women of the Los Angeles Master Chorale, 40 members
of the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, mezzo-soprano Christianne Stotjn … and
the camera operator focusing on Dudamel for the off-stage flgelhorn player in
the third movement ((that must be quite a seat from a sound point of view).

 

As he has done throughout “The Mahler Project,” Dudamel
conducted without a score — as noted in my review of Sunday’s performance of
Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony,
that’s not unprecedented but that doesn’t make it any less amazing. He continues
to be a joy to watch, his exuberant face and expressive gestures communicating
volumes to his musicians. In nearly every concert, Dudamel always appears to be
throughly enjoying himself and last night was no exception, even though he
seemed to be suffering from a head cold. Any performance of Symphony No. 3 is
an endurance contest for all concerned: instrumentalists, singers, conductor
and audience. Last night was no different but was, nonetheless, spellbinding.

 

In conducting Symphonies 4, 1, 2 and the Adagio from No. 10, Dudamel has taken
quite broad tempos most of the time, but last night was different, at least in
the first two movements. The 96 string players (that number would equal the
entire L.A. Phil for most of its concerts) were remarkably precise in the
opening movement (which lasted 33 minutes last night) and the entire brass
section was at its burnished best. The second movement was a model of melding
propulsion and lyricism, while the third movement was the only time when tempos
seemed to flag a bit. However, the flugelhorn solo, paired with the first
trumpeter, was exemplary, a couple of bobbles notwithstanding (the Bolivars
don’t provide principal lists so I can’t tell you who each was).

 

Stotijn sang the fourth-movement text, O Mensch! Gib Acht! (O Man, Take Heed), poignantly, and her fifth
movement, Armer Kinder Bettlerlied (Poor
Children’s Begging Song),
with rich ardor. The Master Chorale women added
lustrous accompaniment and the L.A. Children’s Chorus bimm-bammed angelically.

 

All of that is prologue — in this case, 64 minutes worth –
for the final movement, which Mahler originally called What love tells me and eventually marked Langsam: Ruhevoli; Empfunden (Slow: Peaceful; With feeling). Among
the problems facing the conductor in this 40-minute finale are investing the
movement with the proper gravitas without letting it sink beneath its own
weight. Moreover, there are three climaxes to the movement, so the conductor
has to manage all of that and leave the most glorious measures to the end.

 

Dudamel let it all unfold unhurriedly. If the orchestra
seemed midway through the movement to be wearying a tad, it rallied beautifully
to finish on a majestically glorious fortissimo, those final timpani shots
ringing out like rifle shots, and Dudamel concluded the work not with a furious
cutoff but with a graceful Mehta-like upsweep.

 

Now all they have to do in less than 48 hours is come back
and play Symphony No. 5, which — at about 75 minutes or so — will seem like an
overture. I don’t know how you celebrate your birthdays but Dudamel will mark
his (No. 31) by conducting Mahler’s fifth.

_______________________

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

An overflow crowd showed up for Norman Lebrecht’s
preconcert lecture; if you’re planning on coming to Thursday’s lecture (which,
at this point, is scheduled for BP Hall, not the main auditorium), arrive
early. Lebrecht’s concept of Mahler in this symphony as a pleader for social
justice was provocative, if a bit unwieldy in its presentation.

Mahler called for a long pause after the first movement;
Dudamel took the opportunity to duck offstage for a few seconds.

The weekend’s concerts bring back the L.A. Phil playing
Symphony No. 6.

_______________________

 

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

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.

Around Town/Music: Chamber music admidst Mahler

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

This article was first
published today in the above papers.

 

In the midst of a busy month for orchestral concerts, a
couple of chamber music presentations are worth noting.

 

For more than a quarter-century, Pacific Serenades has
been known for (a) beginning its season after the New Year holiday and (b)
commissioning new works. The inaugural concert of its 2012 season — locally on
Jan. 29 at 4 p.m. in Pasadena’s Neighborhood Church — will feature its 103rd
commissioned work: the world premiere of Different
Lanes
for string quartet and iPad by Los Angeles native and Emmy-award
winning composer Laura Karpman (the title refers to five L.A. freeways) The
program will also include Beethoven’s String Quartet in D Major, Op. 18, No. 3,
and Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Cello (2001).

 

Information:
www.pacser.org

 

Musica Angelica’s concerts next weekend will feature a
performance of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater,
a work at least as well known through its German version when J.S. Bach put
different German text atop Pergolesi’s music (composers during that time were
freer about “borrowing” music both from themselves and others). Martin Hasselbck
will lead his top-notch period-instrument ensemble along with soloists Dame
Emma Kirkby, soprano, and countertenor Daniel Taylor. Sacred arias by Bach and
Handel will fill out the program.

 

The Jan. 28 performance, at 8 p.m., will be the group’s first
time in the AT&T Center Theater in downtown Los Angeles. Old-timers will
recognize this as the old Transamerica Life headquarters. Radio station KUSC
95.1 FM recently moved to the AT&T Center. Originally used as a conference
hall, the performing space reportedly will be acoustically retrofitted by KUSC
to accommodate small- and medium-size musical groups.

The January 29 (3 p.m.) performance will be at First Presbyterian Church, Santa Monica.

 

Information:
www.musicaangelica.org

 

The Simn Bolivr Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela moves
into Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s “Mahler
Project” gets much busier during the next couple of weeks. Gustavo Dudamel,
music director of both the LAPO and SBSOV, will conduct all performances:

* Today at 7:30 p.m. Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection) with the SBSOV, Los Angeles Master Chorale, and
soloists Miah Persson, soprano, and Christianne
Stotijn
, mezzo-soprano.

* Tuesday at 8 p.m., Symphony No. 3 with the SBSOV, women of
the L.A. Master Chorale, L.A. Children’s Chorus, and Stotijn.

* Thursday at 8 p.m., Symphony No. 5 with the SBSOV.

* Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. with
the LAPO playing Symphony No. 6.

* Jan. 31 at 8 p.m., Symphony No. 7 with the SBSOV.

* Feb. 2 and 3 at 8 p.m. and 5 at 2 p.m. Symphony No. 9 with
the LAPO.

* Feb. 4 at 8 p.m. at the Shrine Auditorium (near USC).
Dudamel will lead members of both orchestras, eight soloists, and more than 800
singers from 16 choruses in a performance of Symphony No. 8 that will live up
to its billing (appended not by Mahler but by a promoter) as”Symphony of a
Thousand.” Note, however, that at Friday night’s L.A. Phil performance of
Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, LAPO President announced that tickets for the
performance has sold out. Check the Phil’s box office (323/850-2000) for
returns and cancellations.

 

Information on the
“Mahler Project” concerts:
www.laphil.com

_______________________

 

My reviews of the LA Phil’s performance of Mahler’s Symphony
No. 4 and Songs of a Wayfarer on Jan.
13 is HERE. My review of the Phil’s performance of Symphony No. 1 is HERE. My
reviews of the upcoming performances will be posted the day after each concert.

_______________________

 

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