Gustavo Dudamel's monster Mahler 8 in Caracas
Carnival starts on Monday in Caracas. But the chaos outside the Teatro Teresa Carreño on Saturday night as crowds arrived to hear Gustavo Dudamel conduct a gargantuan Mahler's Eighth Symphony was indication that something was already in the air.
Venezuelans love monster concerts, the more performers the better, partly as a matter of national pride at their extensive and inclusive music education system. This was Mahler's Symphony of a Thousand" with 1,400 performers, and many people without tickets showed up anyway, jostling to get past an ineffective security cordon. Their backup was a free outdoor screen area where people could sit and watch the performance while enjoying the lovely Caribbean breezes.
Inside, a chorus of 1,200 mostly young, uniformly ecstatic singers unleashed vast reserves of controlled energy filling every inch of the hall. They also let loose additional reserves of adrenaline at the curtain calls, with the chorus cheering Dudamel even more lustily than the audience, creating an amazing antiphonal applause.
Forget the Shrine Auditorium. That is where Dudamel had conducted an eventful but acoustically crippled Mahler's Eighth two weeks earlier with the combined Los Angeles Philharmonic and Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, a chorus of 1,000 Angelenos and eight vocal soloists in a venue with room for an audience of more than 5,000.
The Carreño is half the size of the Shrine and has far better (if overly dry) sound than the Shrine. Orchestras and soloists were the same at both venues, but the oversized chorus, which stood on 23 tightly packed tiers, was made up of singers from all 17 states of Venezuela, Dudamel's home country.
You don't take those numbers lightly. There was a lot to go wrongand to go wrong in a very public way since the L.A. Phil, on tour here all week for five Mahler concerts, was showing Saturday's concert live throughout the U.S. and Canada and some of Latin America as a theatercast.
It's been a tough tour for the orchestra. The players are not used to spending so much time in this part of the world and about a quarter of the ensemble has had some sort of food poisoning, causing dropouts all week, including on Saturday.
A massive chorus, no matter how excellently trained, is a handful to deal with. At one point during a rehearsal Dudamel showed rare signs of shortness and frustration when nothing he tried would keep the mob rhythmically together.