Gustavo Dudamel: His debut is complete

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

¡Bienvenido, Gustavo! indeed.

Last night completed the welcome week for 28-year-old Gustavo Dudamel, the Venezuelan conducting wunderkind who took his official bow as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The two-pronged debut wrapped up with a tony gala at Walt Disney Concert Hall – a pricey affair that served as a bracket to the free event that drew a capacity crowd Oct. 3 in the Hollywood Bowl amphitheater.

The two performances highlighted the scope of Mr. Dudamel's appeal, and ambition: The Hollywood Bowl crowd of 18,000 Angelenos, many of whom stood in line for hours to nab a ticket, featured community groups from local schools as well as an eclectic mix of music, from gospel to jazz and ethnic styles as well as Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

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Last night was strictly high-toned, black tie-and-tails classical music. While the now-familiar image of an ecstatic young musician has been plastered all over Los Angeles for the past weeks, a sober Dudamel wordlessly mounted the podium and brought down the baton barely addressing the thunderous audience response.

Only two pieces were on the agenda – a new work commissioned by the L.A. Philharmonic. First up was "City Noir," a three-part, 35-minute homage to this town's past by John Adams. After the intermission, the symphony returned to a familiar work, Mahler's First Symphony. The pace in the first half was brisk and no-nonsense and the work was a sly remix of every movie theme from the 1940s and '50s while pulling listeners forward into new sonic realms of pounding drums and subtle sounds that one might catch around a city corner. Mr. Adams was on hand, sitting in the audience with actors Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson. The conductor and composer embraced onstage as the audience roared its approval.

After the break, the Mahler, full of charm and whimsy, appeared to send the message to a new set of patrons that this music conductor is as at home with the well-loved classics as he is with the most cutting-edge works of today's major composers. As the piece rolled out its extended conclusion, audience members couldn't wait to leap to their feet and begin an extended ovation. Tinseltown finished its anointing of its new musical talent as silver foil confetti rained down from the ceiling.

The big question for all symphonies these days, of course, is whether the traditional, gray-haired classical music lovers are being replaced with a younger generation. Last night gave some promising clues. One young couple in their 20s said they rushed to buy tickets as soon as the box office opened. Julie Ann Crommett, who says she is part Puerto Rican and Cuban, called the evening "unforgettable," adding that "if my generation doesn't begin to accept classical music and see that it is for them, then where will it go?" Her companion, Nathan Enabnit is an accountant who says that the symphony is his passion. "I've been talking it up among my friends for years," he adds.

"Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic: The Inaugural Concert" will air on PBS Great Performances Wednesday, Oct. 21 at 8 p.m.

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