Conducting with electricity
Venezuelan maestro Gustavo Dudamel brings new energy to classical music.
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As Dudamel outlines his first season, which will kick off in October with a free concert at the Hollywood Bowl, it is clear that the man remains humble in the face of a "fantastic" opportunity. But his programming plans are anything but modest, with nine commissions, several world premières, not to mention themed festivals such as "Americas and Americans," a celebration of what he calls a shared "hemispheric" sound.Skip to next paragraph
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"I want to bring everyone together, audiences and performers," he says, adding he wants to change some perceptions. "I would like to eliminate the divisions between a North America and a South America," he says. "There is only an American music."
Such a goal is certainly pragmatic in a city of some 5 million Hispanics, says concert pianist José García-León, who specializes in Latin American music. Dudamel's history will allow him to break down the stereotype of European classical music as an exclusive realm. "He will bring Hispanics into the music hall," says Dr. García- León. "He will allow them to see that his music is theirs as well."
Inspired by Dudamel's wide-reaching and headline-producing success, US cities such as Baltimore, Boston, and Los Angeles have initiated outreach programs modeled on Venezuela's El Sistema. In Baltimore, the one-year-old OrchKids not only teaches underprivileged youth about music, but also provides health services and academic tutoring. The one-year-old Youth Orchestra LA has taken underserved youth into a music and performance program.
"His own story is so inspiring," says Michael Steinberg, director of the Cogut Center for the Humanities at Brown University in Providence, R.I. "Beyond that, this concept of hemispheric definition of music is where music is headed, this sense of inclusiveness is something he embodies and can provide leadership for."
"Dudamel is an important symbol for the success of that story," adds Mr. Rosen. Down the line, he says, the mantle of leadership is the next big frontier for the young conductor, both in terms of music programming and the role of the orchestra in a community. He is in the right place, he adds. The L.A. Philharmonic has a long tradition of spotting young talent, dating back to its hiring of the youthful Zubin Mehta, on up to the departing Esa-Pekka Salonen. "Los Angeles has a good track record of understanding what it takes to nourish and develop a young talent." This will be critical, suggests Maazel, who says Dudamel will have a bumpy road ahead proving his worthiness. "If he takes on too much of the grand repertoire too early, and any part of it fails, it will set back both his own career and that of the orchestra."
But "we are all very protective of our Gustavo," Maazel says, echoing a sentiment that seems to follow the young musician wherever he goes.
Audiences have been known to shout his name at a concert and other unfamiliar happenings have begun to intrude into the classical music halls in which he performs: Think youngsters tapping their toes, and musicians tossing their T-shirts to fans and spinning their stringed instruments like so many bluegrass fiddles.
"This isn't necessarily a bad thing," says Rosen. "Gustavo understands that inclusiveness means everyone, not just the traditional wealthy patrons."