On Sunday morning, Gustavo Dudamel conducted a rehearsal of Mahler’s ninth symphony. At 2pm, he led a public performance of the sixth. At 7pm, he held sway over a choral rehearsal of the eighth.
That is a work rate of which Mahler at his most manic would not have been ashamed. But Gustavo, when I caught him five minutes before the afternoon concert was his usual beaming self, available for a last-minute chat, oblivious to well-meant suggestions that he could do with a shave.
After a week of Dudamel’s Mahler in Los Angeles, with two orchestras – the Simon Bolivar and the LAPO – I got the impression that he’s on one of those all-you-can-eat phone contracts, applied to the musical process. He just loves what he does and cannot get enough of it.
He conducted Mahler’s sixth from memory, having learned it from Leonard Bernstein’s score, with the legend ‘Mahler Grooves’ pasted across the opening pages. It was a daring, aleatory performance in which the order of the middle movements was not decided until the very last minute and no-one except the percussionist knew until he lifted his hammer whether it was going to be two blows in the finale, or three. In the event, the blow was so heavy it broke the specially-built anvil.
After the Saturday night concert, I informed the audience in a q&a session that we had heard a historic interpretation of Mahler 6 – less doom-laden than usual and at times positively sunny, but an approach that reflected its place and time: California in the second decade of the 21st century. Dudamel, 31 last week, will conduct it differently in other times and places. This interpretation, however, will live on in memory and legend.