The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music review: Gustavo Dudamel wows ’em, and wows me: He proves he’s the Real Deal | October 22, 2009

By Jacob Stockinger

He has been dubbed the “Latin Lenny” because he shares the youth and passion and teacherly mission and wild style of Leonard Bernstein when he first came to national attention in the 1940s. dudamel-wild49754818

He has been called the Barack Obama of classical music because he is Latino, a non-white in that most Euro-white world of classical music.

Some refer to him simply as The Dude, after his last name.

But until tonight only a relatively small number of people, mostly in South and North America and Europe, have been able to judge the mop-topped maestro for themselves.

Then Wednesday night, the Venezuela-born Gustavo Dudamel, 28, made his official debut as he opened the new Los Angeles Philharmonic season in Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Hall on PBS’ “Great Performances.”

And that TV broadcast, taped in early October, no doubt allowed him to reach more listeners — millions, one assumes — in one performance than many other conductors reached in their lifetime.

So how did he do?

Dudamel exudes joy. He possesses the ability simultaneously to seem in total control and to seem on the verge of being out of control, to be at once thoughtful and passionate — the ideal balancing act of art. He got his orchestra to play tight and not for nothing did he receive an immediate and prolonged  standing ovation and loud cheers — even from home viewers — as he stood for the applause amid his musicians.  dudamel-players49754783

His conducting style showed confidence in his tempi, balancing of parts and dynamics. He knows what he wants to do, and he gets others to do it. That is a substantial gift that will take him far.

Dudamel also knows how to build a program.

Quite appriopriately, he commissioned minimalist John Adams to compose “City Noir,” a world-premiere piece that pays homage to LA’s Hollywood and literary past. At times, especially in the final movement, this contemporary tone poem proved an exciting curtain-raiser that will receive many other performances. Still, to my ears, it could easily be edited by up to one-half. But at least it didn’t have the monotonous drone that can make a self-parody of so much minimalism. The work had plenty of mood and texture, with the jerky jazziness adding to its effect. But shorter would be better.

Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 “Titan” seemed a perfect choice for this young titan, especially since he has already recorded to critical success Mahler’s Fifth Symphony with the famous “Death in Venice” Adagietto. In Dudamel’s hands, the work was emotional and dramatic, but never exaggerated or distorted. This is an endlessly smiling Latin man who well understands the frowning German-Austrian-Jewish man and the marginality and anguish Mahler knew so deeply, so personally. The reading showed how much Dudamel has pondered and mastered the score since he first conducted it over a decade ago as a beginning apprentice conductor.

The only real flaw of the two-hour evening was the tendency of the opening of the program to be overproduced, filled with too much hyperbole, too many Hollywood stars and celebrities, too much self-promotion. But, then, it is LA and it was TV.

In the end, one looks forward to many more concerts, many more recordings and much more attention paid to classical music in the schools and in society.

Dudamel is a gift and, considering sagging classical music ticket and CD sales, he arrives just when we need him most.

But what do you think of Dudamel and his music-making?

How do you rate his debut?

Write a critique and publish it here.

The Ear wants to hear.


Posted in Classical music

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