Notes from the L.A. Mahlerthon

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Richard S. Ginell - From Out of the The WestBy Richard S. Ginell: From Out of the West

Here in Los Angeles – suddenly the Mahler capital of the world for three-and-a-half weeks in winter – we are two-thirds of the way through Gustavo Dudamel’s audacious journey from memory through all nine completed symphonies, plus the Adagio from the Tenth and Songs Of A Wayfarer. Time to take a breather before resuming the Mahlerthon, and gather a few thoughts together:

– As a rule of the thumb, the best performances have been of those symphonies with which Dudamel has had the most experience, the ones that launched him into international orbit..  These would be the Symphony 2 – which was capped by the most electrifying fifth movement I have ever experienced live – and Symphony 5 – with the same wildness that we heard from Gustavo here in 2007 but now better-played and shaped. Also in that category is the Symphony 1; some of the eccentricities that disfigured it in 2009, particularly in the second movement, have been dropped – all for the good. Also the Adagio from the Tenth had a tremendous expressionistic edge and power that made you wish he had chosen to play the entire symphony. On the other hand, Symphony 4 didn’t have much depth; Symphony 3 was uneven but had its thrilling moments, particularly in movements 1, 3 and 5; and Symphony 6 simply did not ignite with its strict, if rhythmically taut classical approach and placement of the Andante before the Scherzo – which isn’t nearly as powerful musically and dramatically as the other way around.

– I’m struck by the enthusiasm and sheer physical energy that the huge Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra puts out for Gustavo, and how that contrasts with the more laid-back body-English of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. It doesn’t necessarily signal a better performance, but so far, Symphonies 2, 5 and parts of 3 with the Simon Bolivar have generated the most excitement.

– The Mahler Project has been a box-office bonanza so far for the Los Angeles Philharmonic.  Every performance I’ve attended has been sold out (and there are no more seats for Symphonies 8 and 9 later this week).  It’s hard to say whether the massive attendance can be attributed to Gustavo’s appeal or to Mahler’s – probably both – but it shows that some people apparently haven’t been affected at all by the Great Recession. I did some math and figured that the approximate cost of a pair of seats for the eight programs in the Orchestra 3 section of Walt Disney Concert Hall and the cast-of-thousands Symphony 8 lollapalooza in the Shrine Auditorium comes to about $2,756! What recession?

– The revved-up Disney Hall audiences haven’t been the most conscientious at times. Twice, they burst into premature applause before the final quiet notes of the 10 Adagio and the finale of 6 had barely been struck – much to the annoyance of Gustavo Dudamel, whose arms were still up in the air. He did not look like his usual effusive self as he left the podium on those nights.