LA Phil Blog

Mandolins Invade the Phil!

Mandolins Invade the Phil!

Guido Lamell and his mandolin on stage at Boston’s Symphony Hall.

Here we are ...  Just about to leave the last hotel and head to Boston's Symphony Hall for the last rehearsal and final concert of this wonderful tour. And one of the unusual elements has been the inclusion of mandolins in the Corigliano Symphony No. 1. The score calls for four second violinists to double on mandolin in the 2nd and 4th movements, so Personnel Manager, Jeff Neville, asked me if I could help with this. I had played mandolin for the Phil many times in past years in compositions by Boulez, Ligeti, and others, so I was the "go-to-guy" on this one. (Actually, over the years, I may have played more different instruments for the Phil than anyone, including musical saw, viola, and sitar.)

First, I checked the score months ago to learn that the mandolins would be playing in some loud sections, so I would need to find loud instruments. (Most mandolins have soft volume levels, but stronger ones can be located). I had my own, so I found and arranged for the Phil to rent three others that I hand-picked (excuse the pun) from around LA. Then, Jeff addressed the 2nd violins on stage during a rehearsal about a month before the tour and asked for volunteers. I think almost every 2nd violin's hand shot up at about the same moment, so Jeff just selected four of us who were sitting in a cluster, and I'm grateful that I was included. The others are Yun Tang, Varty Manouelian, and Jin-Shan Dai. This became the honorary Philharmonic Mandolin quartet. (I noticed in our parts that the mandolin sections had been scratched out. We had to restore them. Other orchestras probably didn't have players intrepid enough to take on this sort of challenge. Go LA Phil!).

The parts were not easy! We had to practice quite a bit, and we worked out several of the passages together before and after rehearsals. We were fully aware that there would be no room for excuses! It had to be "Philharmonic Level" if it would be heard on some of the world's great stages!

What a group this has been! I am proud to say that the performances have gone very well and Gustavo Dudamel has given the four of us our own special bow after several of the performances. That's a treat, because 2nd violinists rarely get their own bow (actually, they should get special bows on a regular basis because they really are one of the most important sections ...)

After a performance the other evening, Yun Tang said, "Playing the mandolin has been really fun ... I'm going to miss it." I think that sums it up for all of us.

- Guido Lamell