Philharmonic's Incoming Dudamel Gives L.A. a Much-Anticipated Preview

The L.A. Philharmonic's conductor in-waiting, Gustavo Dudamel, was in Los Angeles last week for a series of concerts. It was his first concert performance here since the Phil announced earlier this year that Esa-Pekka Salonen will pass the baton to him in about a year and a half. Dudamel's conducted in L.A. before, but lots more anticipation accompanied this visit. KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez reports that orchestral music lovers were eager to hear for themselves whether the 26-year-old Venezuelan wonder would deliver.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: His English is shaky, so Gustavo Dudamel offered a bilingual answer to the question: "What are you learning about L.A.?"

Gustavo Dudamel: I was really clear on what is Los Angeles, and now, what, eh, lo que yo estoy viendo cada vez mas...

Guzman-Lopez: What he's discovering more and more, Dudamel said, is that people in L.A. have an openness and willingness that he doesn't find in other cities.

He was talking about their willingness to grow orchestral music outside the concert hall. One example: the L.A. Philharmonic's fledgling effort to launch a local youth orchestra system similar to the one in Venezuela that gave Dudamel his big breaks.

That program, he said, and the prospect of leading the Phil's musicians, excites him about coming to Los Angeles. His return to Disney Hall combined his passion for conducting and his interest in fostering young performers.

[Sound of Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra tuning instruments]

Guzman-Lopez: Dudamel had conducted Venezuela's Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra for seven years, and they reunited for a concert in downtown L.A. The first selection of the evening was Leonard Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from "West Side Story."

[Music: Symphonic Dances from "West Side Story"]

Guzman-Lopez: Dudamel's conducted this piece a lot. A high-energy version recorded in London – in which the musicians sway to the beat and twirl their instruments – has drawn a lot of attention on YouTube. In live performance, it's a crowd pleaser.

[Music: "Mambo" from Symphonic Dances from "West Side Story"]

Guzman-Lopez: As he directs, Dudamel's hands, fingers, arms, hips, and long, curly locks sway, lunge, and swing.

[Music: "Mambo" from Symphonic Dances from "West Side Story"]

Guzman-Lopez: The second selection on this night is Gustav Mahler's Fifth Symphony. It's the piece that won him the L.A. Philharmonic job. The composition's wide range of emotions seems perfectly suited for Dudamel's conducting style.

[Music: Mahler's Symphony Number 5]

Guzman-Lopez: Dudamel's lips pucker. His eyes open wide. He smiles. At several points he audibly inhales through his nose and mouth. He holds onto a music stand to keep from falling off the podium.

[Music: Conclusion of Mahler's Symphony Number 5; audience applause]

Guzman-Lopez: Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra earned a standing ovation that lasted almost 10 minutes.

Afterward, in the Disney Hall lobby, audience member and professional violinist Anne Riordan said she's sold on Dudamel.

Anne Riordan: I'm so excited, I can't stand it. (laughs) Just watching Dudamel work these kids into such a fervor, and watching the level of musicianship that he fed them, he was so with them the entire time.

Guzman-Lopez: The YouTube crowd also felt he was with them. That's where 20-year-old Daniel Gomez first saw the conductor. For this concert, Gomez flew in from Chicago. When it was over he stood in a long autograph line with a Dudamel CD in his hand.

Daniel Gomez: I got the – I don't know how to pronounce it, I'm very bad with pronunciations – what is it? Mahler I think; Symphony Number 5, I think. So, I'm going to get my signature and go home happy.

Guzman-Lopez: Topanga Canyon residents John and Mary Sipple attend the symphony often. Mary Sipple said she noticed a younger crowd on this night.

Mary Sipple: I think he's going to be very good, especially for the Hispanic population and the young people. Not that Esa-Pekka was crusty and old by any means, but I think Dudamel is going to be exciting for this city.

Guzman-Lopez: And exciting for the late night crowd. When in L.A., Dudamel's been known to sneak an after-concert hot dog from the venerable Pink's on Melrose Avenue and La Brea Boulevard. Already, Pink's owners have named a hot dog after him. The Dudamel Dog overflows with Swiss and American cheeses, guacamole, and tortilla chips.