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Dudamel Conducts a Thousand in Mahler's 8th - Wow!

The conductor of the L.A. Philharmonic, Gustavo Dudamel, combined our local symphonic group with the Simón Boliver Orchestra of Venezuela in playing Mahler's Eighth Symphony, called 'Symphony of a Thousand."
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Gustavo Dudamel is the 31-year-old conductor of the L.A. Philharmonic! Here at The Shrine. Photo by Craig T. Mathew/Mathew Imaging.

My dear friend, Ginny Mancini, invited me to join her and guests in partaking of an exhibition on Saturday evening at The Shrine Auditorium which may have been... the single most exciting musical event in the recent history of L.A. At it, the 31-year-old genius conductor of the L.A. Philharmonic, Gustavo Dudamel, combined our local symphonic group with the Simón Boliver Orchestra of Venezuela (to which he belonged as a young man) in playing Mahler's Eighth Symphony, called 'Symphony of a Thousand." You see, Mahler wrote the vocal part of the symphony to be sung by almost a thousand choral voices! And this night it was! The combined orchestra of 190 musicians was backed on 18 risers by 813 singers and eight soloists, facing an enthusiastic audience of 5,400 cheering people who had fought tooth-and-nail to get the hard-to-find tickets to the event. The Los Angeles Times wrote that the youngest singer was nine years old while the oldest were in their seventies. Fortunately for us, the beautiful Mrs. Mancini (widow of the great composer Henry Mancini) is on the Board of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, so she was able to garner a dozen tickets for her friends. After feeding us bountifully in her penthouse apartment, she arranged two stretch limos to head down the freeway to Jefferson Blvd. and the Shrine. Needless to say, the traffic close to the theatre was a nightmare, but we arrived just in time to settle into our loge seats and look in awe at the massive enlarged stage with all of those people. Two large projector screens placed on either side of the stage allowed everyone to see intimate closeups of the conductor and the cast during the hour-and-thirty minute performance.

Chorus and musicians. Photo by Craig T. Mathew/Mathew Imaging.

Ginny told me that this was the first time that Gustavo was conducting this symphony, which continues the Mahler symphonic cycle of recent weeks. And she noted that he had memorized every one of the symphonies, an incredible feat. Ginny will be joining the two orchestras next week in a trip back to Venezuela for a hometown continuation there of several of the symphonies. Deborah Borda, the energetic president and CEO of the L.A. Philharmonic, told me earlier that tonight's ensemble consisted of 18 diverse groups coming together. There were 91 musicians from the LA Phil plus 99 from the Boliver symphony, with the 813 singers from 16 local choruses and eight noted soloists. Imagine the logistics of that! Incidentally, Borda was the one who pursued the curly-haired conductor all over the globe until she captured him (reportedly away from Chicago) for our local symphony, an incredible feat which has revitalized our local music scene. The Chairman of the Board of the Philharmonic, financier David Bohnett, recently told me that attendance at the Walt Disney Hall for their concerts is up markedly from previous years.

David Bohnett, Chairman of the Board & Deborah Borda, President and CEO, LA Philharmonic, with former Disney head Michael Eisner and wife Jane. Photo by Craig T. Mathew/Mathew Imaging.

Dudamel is expressive and so exciting. Photo by Craig T. Mathew/Mathew Imaging.

Mrs. Mancini greets her guests prior to going to the concert.

Gustavo conducts, while a 'golden woman' sings from the box. Photo by Craig T. Mathew/Mathew Imaging.

I didn't realize until that evening that the first half of the symphony would be sung in Latin and the second half in German, inspired by Goethe's Faust. The Los Angeles Master Chorale was the largest participant in the chorus, with 108 professional singers. The Los Angeles Children's Chorus had about fifty youngsters in their group, and others came from all over the city. Ginny said that they began rehearsing the choral parts many months ago, and only came together for a rehearsal in Disney Hall recently. I understand that a filmed recap of the entire symphony will be broadcast at 400 local area theatres in mid-month. See it!

Photos courtesy of the L.A. Philharmonic.

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