A Selective Guide to the Arts in Los Angeles

Gustavo Dudamel

Gustavo Dudamel

Yesterday, when Gustavo Dudamel appeared at Disney Hall, classical music aficionado Henry Schlinger used the occasion to write down some of his thoughts on the maestro.

Los Angeles rolled the red carpet out today, but it wasn’t for any of the usual suspects. No, the red carpet was rolled out for the new music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, wunderkind Gustavo Dudamel. The hype over the past several months surrounding Dudamel’s succession to the L.A. Phil throne has been nothing short of, well, hype.

The question is whether a 27-year-old, relatively unknown (until his appointment as the L.A Phil music director) kid from Venezuela is everything he’s been touted as being.

Well, from what I’ve seen so far, the answer is an unequivocal “yes.”

I’ve now attended three concerts in which Dudamel conducted the L.A. Phil. The major works on those concerts were the Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, and Richard Strauss’ Alpine Symphony. Each of these pieces is in its own way very challenging: the Berlioz because, well, it’s Berlioz; the Beethoven because it is popular and performed often; and the Strauss because it is rarely performed, scored for a huge orchestra, and almost an hour long.

Was the 27-year-old up to the challenge of conducting these works?

In a word—absolutely.

Impressively, Dudamel conducted these works without a score. I’ve seen many much older and more seasoned conductors unable to conduct the Beethoven and Berlioz works without scores. In talking about whether Dudamel would use a score for the Strauss prior to the performance, I guessed that he would because the piece is played so rarely and it is so complex. When he bounced onto the stage and climbed onto the scoreless podium, I sat in disbelief and remained that way during the entire stirring performance.

In every piece I have seen him conduct, Dudamel was in total command of the orchestra, swaying, singing and smiling as they played seemingly only for him. When he is on the podium, he conducts like someone much older and more experienced. Off the podium, however, Dudamel seems more his age. In fact, during his brief time in L.A., Dudamel has been like a kid in a candy store. He seems not to fully comprehend the attention he has received and so far maintains a youthful innocence and honesty.

One might figure that anyone who has had as many accolades heaped on him as Dudamel has would become cocky. But I have never witnessed a more humble conductor than Dudamel. I have yet to see him take a bow for himself; rather he steps down from the podium and stands with the orchestra during the audience applause. When called back onto the stage by cheers, whoops, hollers, and whistles, he has not climbed back on the podium and taken a bow, but again has stood with the orchestra. At the conclusion of one piece that featured a soloist, Dudamel stood deferentially behind the soloist clapping. When pianist Simon Trpceski was called back for an encore after performing Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in a concert last March, Dudamel, who was still on stage, sat down on the podium to listen. It was spontaneous and informal, but very powerful.

As if Dudamel’s musical prowess isn’t enough (which it is), his humility and modesty has won over this fan, and any doubts I had about the L.A. Phil’s decision to hire him vanished the first time I heard him conduct. Deborah Borda and the Board of Directors have hit an even longer home run with Dudamel than perhaps they did with Esa-Pekka Salonen, who himself was a huge score.