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For the LA Philharmonic's Beethoven cycle, one orchestra is not enough

The "Immortal Beethoven" series was launched with a gala that included Gustavo Dudamel conducting both the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela.
Greg Grudt

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This week the Los Angeles Philharmonic continues the classical music blitz it’s calling “Immortal Beethoven": Nine symphonies all performed multiple times in 11 day — a daunting task to be certain. But luckily for the L.A. Phil musicians, they’ll have help from the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela.

During a recent rehearsal, conductor Gustavo Dudamel gave directions to the musicians, but his notes weren’t in English and the musicians weren’t his usual charges from the L.A. Philharmonic.

Dudamel may head the L.A. Phil, but he’s not a talent exclusive to Los Angeles.

“I know Gustavo since I was eight years old,” says Alejandro Carreño, the concertmaster for the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela — Dudamel’s other orchestra.

Carreño says Dudamel and most members of the Bolívar Orchestra met at a young age. “That makes no separation between the podium and the stands,” he says.

Kenneth Jones also plays violin with the Bolívar Symphony Orchestra.

“This orchestra in particular, you feel like you’re part of a family,” Jones says. “You’re part of something that is bigger.”

And you might say that big orchestra family extends from Venezuela to Los Angeles. Carreño says the Bolívar Orchestra shares not only its conductor with the L.A. Phil, but also its technique.

The combined forces of the L.A. Phil and the Bolívar Orchestra (Photo Credit: Greg Grudt) 

“It’s very clear that both orchestras are from the same conductor,” Carreño says. “You can feel that, even though it’s different orchestras from different places, but we play in his way.”

For this demanding marathon, the two orchestras are playing all nine of Beethoven’s symphonies. Dudamel is conducting an astounding 12 performances over 11 days. Each orchestra is performing four symphonies, and they’re combining forces on Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.

Cellist Gabriela Jiménez says performing Beethoven is tough.

“We enjoy a lot doing this music, but I think that Beethoven’s music is very, very difficult,” Jiménez says.

Playing back-to-back Beethoven for two weeks straight does seem like finger-busting work. But Carreño says they’re accustomed to it: “Of course it’s a lot of work, but we have the muscle already for that."

Luckily, the musicians do take some time to decompress. Jones says they spend time together not only when they are practicing, but also after work — parties, shopping, sightseeing and the like.

But the musicians are very serious when it comes to Beethoven.

“It’s very special to play, always, Beethoven,” Carreño says. “It’s so powerful — the message of pure beauty.”

Carreño believes there’s more to performing Beethoven than just hitting the notes. “To try to touch the genius of Beethoven, that’s another thing,” he says.

Touching the genius of Beethoven is admittedly a strenuous task. So what’s next after the Beethoven endurance run has ended?

“We will rest for two weeks," Carreño says. "Finally.” 

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