A Selective Guide to the Arts in Los Angeles

Gustavo Dudamel

Gustavo Dudamel had a ball at the Bowl with Gershwin and Bernstein kickin’ it Tuesday night, Aug. 3.

Gershwin’s eidetic An American in Paris was rapturous — take that, you East Coast snobs!

The large orchestration really resonated in the Hollywood Bowl, and Dudamel and the LA Phil delivered a knock-out performance. We could see the New York night in Dudamel’s face and hear the unique Los Angeles sound in his baton.  The combination was nirvana.

The principals stepped up with enthusiasm, as Concertmaster Martin Chalifour was perfectly on mark, and Principal Violist Carrie Dennis was fun to hear and witness as her animated persona connected with Dudamel’s baton.

The Bowl is uniquely the place to see Dudamel.  The projection system captured every nuance of his amazing persona.  He exudes a fury of decisiveness as he generates rapid-fire gestures, each succinct and discrete, often uber-bursting with exuberance, yet fluidly integrated with the music and its emotive heart. He bombards the orchestra (and this night the audience) with clearly interpretable although wildly unorthodox manners.  I couldn’t take my eyes off of him — a ballet of brilliance that produced a sound like no other.

The evening was special in several ways, as it was the anniversary of Dudamel’s first appearance at the Bowl after being invited by Esa-Pekka Salonen only five years ago, and because he was joined by his homeland friend, pianist Gabriela Montero, with whom he shares connections to Venezuelan  conductor José Antonio Abreu.  His humble pride was evident.

Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue featured Montero with a classic rendition.  Clarinet soloist Michele Zukovsky was superb and it was immediately obvious from the opening glissando.  The huge sound of trumpeter James Wilt was outstanding.  My ear was piqued by the deep-timbred sound of flutist Catherine Ransom Karoly that penetrated with a finely honed edge; her artistry stood out.

Montero’s precision was extraordinary, although at times the exacting technique detracted from the Gershwin aesthetic.  She had a great opportunity to step out of the box with her well-known improvisatory abilities and breadth of style, but she played it straight; her sensibilities clearly waned classical, and some tender moments of the music were lost to rigueur.

Musical badinage with the audience and orchestra made for a delightful segue to intermission, as Montero solicited a musical theme on the spot and then produced improvisations. This night she developed the opening notes of the Beethoven Fifth and the beautiful Guantanamera. Her impromptu treatments were totally classical in character, curiously un-jazzy, and somewhat formulaic as simple melodies quickly developed into large-scale virtuoso vehicles.  Her skill was impressive, and she is truly unique in her improvisatory art.

Bernstein’s Three Dance Episodes from On the Town and Symphonic Dances from West Side Story were delightful — but the night belonged to Gershwin.

Thank goodness that Los Angeles had the wisdom to grab this extraordinary maestro!