In Venezuela, they are called huevos, and Gustavo “The Dude” Dudamel, conductor of the LA Philharmonic, has a great big pair of them.
We're not talking 20-minute Haydn quickies here. A fast performance of Mahler's shortest symphony, the Fourth, takes 50 minutes. His longest work, the Third, requires a minimum of one and a half hours.
Since we're known to be crack mathematicians, we did some quick calculations. To perform all the symphonies without pissing off the musicians' union, there need to be nine separate concerts in three weeks.
To save string players' arms and brass players' lips, Dudamel is shrewdly dividing the performance duties between the LA Phil (no. 4, 1, 6, and 9) and his Venezuelan homies in the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra (no. 2, 3, 5, and 7); both groups will join forces for the Eighth Symphony in a not-to be-missed performance on Feb. 4.
Although the 8th Symphony is nicknamed “The Symphony of a Thousand,” performances usually don't involve that many people. Dudamel won't punk L.A., though — with 16 choruses and eight soloists, over 1,000 musicians will be onstage.
Even if you're a fan, it can be overwhelming. Here, then, is our helpful tip sheet to make the most of Mahlerpalooza.
Best concerts for newbies: The 4th and 1st symphonies are the most straightforward of Mahler's works, which for Mahler still means that there are plenty of unexpected detours and surprises.
Best concerts for Mahler mavens: You know the 7th and 8th Symphonies don't often get performed here. If you don't catch these performances this time around, who knows when you'll have another chance in Southern California?
Preconcert talks: Some of the experts include British gadfly and novelist Norman Lebrecht and millionaire publisher-turned-Mahler-scholar, Gilbert Kaplan. Mahler's music was complicated, and so was his life; the talks should shed much light on both.
Explore Mahler resources online: Mahler conducted the New York Philharmonic for two seasons, and they remain a great repository of Mahleriana. Read about Mahler's time in New York, see his conductor's marks on his own scores, and hear his widow, Alma, tell anecdotes.
DGG and Decca have a selection of out-of-print recordings of Mahler works streaming for free. You'll have to register at the site, but after that, you have access to half-hour tracks with no commercials. Mahler's publisher, Universal Edition, has a large collection of video interviews with conductors and scholars.
Who should skip this: Anyone who likes their music neat and symmetrical and orderly (you'll be happier hearing Bruckner's 9th in May). Mahler's dictum, that a symphony must embrace the entire world, means that his sprawling scores can be messy and unpredictable — just like life, and that's exactly what we love about Mahler's music.
Is it possible for a 90-minute work to contain the entire world? Not really, but like Dudamel's superhuman effort in overseeing this festival, we appreciate the struggle.