After being away for three months, LA Phil Music Director Gustavo Dudamel has returned to conduct four series of concerts featuring the complete symphonies by Franz Schubert and the song cycles of Gustav Mahler. He opened the series this week with the Schubert’s Symphony No. 1 in D major, D. 82, and Symphony No. 2 in B-flat major, D. 125, and Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer with mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung.
On Saturday night, when Dudamel should have been as exuberant as Schubert’s first two symphonies sounded, he looked unusually solemn — perhaps as a result of the events in his home country of Venezuela. A young musician from one of the orchestras in El Sistema was shot and killed as part of a protest in Caracas. Dudamel has been reluctant to criticize the government of Venezuela, but this recent event was apparently the straw, and he made a public statement decrying the government and president and calling for change. He was so disturbed by this killing, which brought the problems in his native country closer to home, that he dedicated Friday night’s concert to the fallen musician. Thus, Dudamel could be excused for not appearing more exuberant. That does not mean that he did not deliver astounding performances of the Schubert symphonies and the Mahler Songs of a Wayfarer.
Composed when he was only 16 and 17, respectively, Schubert’s first two symphonies reflect the influence of Mozart and Haydn whose music he was exposed to in his education. Both symphonies are buoyant and brimming with the energy of a brilliant teenager, with no hint of the sadness and tragedy that would visit him later in his short life.
There was no hint of Dudamel’s solemn mood in these performances. On the contrary, Dudamel threw himself into these two symphonies with surprising vigor. All the principal string players and most of the principal woodwind and horn players were on stage for this concert, and it showed as the rather small classical Schubertian orchestra sounded larger under Dudamel’s direction. The result was an exciting performance of both symphonies. But, as Dudamel left the stage after each symphony, he did not look up at the Orchestra East audience members with his usual smile. The pain was still there.
Mahler wrote the poems for The Songs of a Wayfarer, and they reflect his own sorrows after his relationship with a soprano ended unhappily. And while the subject of Mahler’s loss was different than Dudamel’s, the Songs may have given Dudamel an opportunity to grieve a little musically. Either way, Dudamel and DeYoung collaborated for an emotional performance of the Songs.
Dudamel and the Phil perform Schubert’s Symphonies Nos. 3 and 4 and Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder on May 11, 12 and 13.
—Henry Schlinger, Culture Spot LA
For information about upcoming concerts, visit www.laphil.com.