Grant Gershon, the head of the L.A. Master Chorale, is serving as the chorus director. He met with all of the choir directors in June and spent hours going through the piece measure by measure. He also made an annotated score and sample audio files available for download via an extranet.
The Symphony No. 8 clocks in at about 1 hour and 30 minutes. It isn't the longest of Mahler's symphonies, which would be the Third, at about 1 hour and 40 minutes.
Singers involved in Saturday's concert described the piece as demanding but not extraordinarily difficult.
"I think Dudamel has the hardest part," said Nicole Baker, a member of the L.A. Master Chorale. "It's the difference between driving a small car and a huge bus. There's a lot of potential for things to fall apart."
Jamal Jaffer, a seventh-grader at Polytechnic School in Pasadena and a singer with the L.A. Children's Chorus, said the acoustics of the Shrine could be challenging. "I'm pretty nervous about not hearing the people around me, but I'm excited to be with that many people," he said.
The L.A. Philharmonic has only three rehearsals at the Shrine before the concert, including one on Saturday morning.
One reason the symphony rarely is performed on such a large scale is the simple factor of economics. Engaging a chorus numbering in the several hundreds can be prohibitively expensive. The L.A. Philharmonic is solving this problem by relying partly on amateur choral organizations. Choral groups said they are receiving a small honorarium of about a couple thousand dollars each.
A spokeswoman for the L.A. Master Chorale said the group is receiving a standard fee based on a negotiated rate with the musicians' union.
Deborah Borda, president of the L.A. Philharmonic, said the orchestra's decision to go big was an artistic choice and a reference to the 1910 world premiere. In an e-mail, Borda said that "Gustavo wished to honor that initial performance and the composer's own conception of the work."