A Selective Guide to the Arts in Los Angeles

Gustavo Dudamel / Photo courtesy of the LA Phil

What do you get when you combine the most exciting young conductor in the world today with one of the world’s best symphony orchestras which he helped to build, a renowned master chorale and talented vocalists performing arguably the greatest symphony ever written — the Symphony No. 9 in D minor by Beethoven, Op. 125 — in one of the world’s great concert halls? You get one of the most exciting performances of the Beethoven Ninth this reviewer has ever seen.

On Saturday night, Gustavo Dudamel led the LA Phil, the LA Master Chorale and vocalists Juliana Di Giacomo, Jennifer Johnson Cano, Michael König and Craig Colclough in an inspired performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

Dudamel — his hair prematurely graying perhaps from his tireless schedule of leading orchestras all over the world in addition to his duties as the music director of the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela and music and artistic director of the LA Phil — gave the audience a thrilling ride.

Right out of the gate, Dudamel kept the tempos fast, but not too fast, and had the large orchestra playing as tightly as I’ve ever heard them. The first two movements established a momentum that was difficult to ease up on when the tranquil third movement began, and also created an anticipation in the audience for the famous and revolutionary finale.

Once the orchestra got past the opening of the finale, in which Beethoven echoes bits of the first three movements, Dudamel had the cellos and basses play the main theme so quietly, it was barely audible. But that enabled him to build to a crescendo that was nothing short of glorious.

Dudamel at times was so animated one could squint and see Beethoven standing at the podium conducting his symphonic swansong and unable to hear a single note. Dudamel, of course, heard it all and managed to convey a freshness in a symphony we’ve all heard so many times. It was almost like witnessing its first performance.

And the audience did something I’ve rarely seen: everyone stood and cheered, and no one left the hall for many minutes. It showed an appreciation for what was truly a once-in-a-lifetime musical experience.

Dudamel started the concert with a wonderfully moving performance of Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, with the LA Master Chorale showing us why they must be second to none in the world. Countertenor John Holiday sang like an angel.

The Psalms show Bernstein at his compositional best with soaring melodies and, at times, rhythms that remind one of his West Side Story. The orchestra — absent any woodwinds — conveyed the solemn nature of the Psalms. It was a moving performance that could not have set the stage any better for the Beethoven in the second half. The two works were (are) a perfect match in more ways than just musically; the texts of both works appeal to the goodness of God and to the feeling of joyfulness.

It was indeed a joyful evening of beautiful, inspiring music!

—Henry Schlinger, Culture Spot LA

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