How to rig your stage for Mahler's Eighth

It’s coming up next week in L.A. and the stage hands are doing musical dry-runs. Watch this:

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  • You’ve also just witnessed a larger payroll in operation than the entire orchestra and administration combined. Not to mention the pension.

    • Yes, the Shrine will be the setting of the one performance of the Eighth in the L.A. Mahler cycle, on Saturday, Feb. 4. (The live HDTV transmission on Feb. 18 will be the Caracas performance with the same two orchestras — the LA Phil and the Simon Bolivar SO — but different choirs.)

      The last time the work was played in L.A. was in Maestro Salonen’s last full season, and the Hollywood Bowl was used, although many fewer choir members were used in that performance.

      Provided the measurements of the Shrine stage are accurate, the staging can be mapped out on the Disney Hall stage, bleachers for the hundreds of singers constructed and tested, and orchestra rehearsals carried out without having to pay the high rental fees of the Shrine Auditorium. Rehearsing in other venues is common in the U.S. not only to save on costs but also to avoid tying up large facilities for rehearsals rather than revenue concerts.

      As a L.A. resident, I’m far more entranced by seeing the Disney Hall auditorium in a stop-frame video than I would be by seeing the same preparations for Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand in the cavernous Shrine space. For all those who haven’t yet had the pleasure to experience the Disney Hall space live, the visual beauty and harmony of it can be experienced vicariously through such a video.

      It would have been an extraordinary acoustic experience to feel that the size of the audience in Disney Hall’s 2300 seats was barely greater than the number of musicians but, financially, it could not have been supported. Further, the sound of a Mahler symphony is completely different when the listener is very close to the orchestra than when s/he is able to experience the blended sound. The Shrine is the largest enclosed venue in L.A. designed for large productions (he’s where the Metropolitan Opera used to perform when it traveled on tour) and so it is acoustically satisfactory, whereas an open-air facility like the Bowl or the Staples Center would need to be amplified rather than be.naturally acoustic.

  • That’s always the challenge with the Mahler 8. Either do a “chamber version” like the one I heard with Philly in Carnegie Hall, or find a venue that is huge enough to handle all the forces, which usually results in less than great acoustics. When Stokowski conducted the US premiere with the full complement of over 1000, twenty-four levels of platforms had to be specially constructed in the Academy of Music. Photographs make it look like the highest-up performers were near the ceiling!

    As a former Angeleno I love Disney Hall. Managed to get back to hear three very different programs (most recently the Saint Saens 3 earlier this month. It’s a wonderful place. You’re very lucky!

  • The LA Phil website has posted these photos, http://www.laphil.com/blog/?p=2077, to show the preparation of the Shrine Auditorium for the Saturday, Feb. 4, performance of Mahler’s Eighth. Full rehearsals with both full chorus and the two orchestras (LAPhil and SBSOV) begin this evening, Feb. 1.

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