New L.A. Philharmonic conductor rocks the house

Downey resident Flor Graterol was one of 18 thousand people who welcomed new L.A. Philharmonic conductor and music director Gustavo Dudamel.
Downey resident Flor Graterol was one of 18 thousand people who welcomed new L.A. Philharmonic conductor and music director Gustavo Dudamel.
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/KPCC

Eighteen thousand people at a sold out Hollywood Bowl welcomed Gustavo Dudamel on Saturday night as the next musical director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

The concert began in the afternoon with performances by a gospel choir, a Cuban pianist, a high school jazz band, a Mexican American folkloric ensemble, a youth orchestra, and concluded with a nighttime fireworks display.

The free concert attracted long time L.A. Philharmonic subscribers and many at the Hollywood Bowl for the first time. Some wore yellow, red and blue – the colors of Dudamel’s native Venezuelan flag. Cultural pride brought Downey resident Flor Graterol to the concert. “I was born in Caracas, Venezuela and Gustavo is from Venezuela. I’m excited and very proud to be Venezuelan.”

Sylmar resident Daniel Rodriguez, an immigrant from Mexico, believes Dudamel’s is boundary-less. Rodriguez’s 24 year-old daughter Paulina Rodriguez – a cultural anthropology student at Cal State Northridge – echoed the family’s excitement to see the L.A. Philharmonic’s new conductor. “I got the whole Gustavo fever hearing about it and seeing how amazing he is, a young genius. I thought it would be pretty cool to come.”

The Rodriguez family engaged in the traditional Hollywood Bowl pre-concert picnic. Their spread included tamales, hummus with pita bread, and a bottle of red wine.

Youth and music instruction dominated as spoken and unspoken themes during the performances. Dudamel drove the point home toward the end of the night when he conducted the 120-strong Expo Center Youth Orchestra. The group’s part of the two year-old Youth Orchestra Los Angeles initiative begun after Dudamel’s appointment. It gives instruments and music instruction to Los Angeles Unified School District students. This summer the students feverishly rehearsed Beethoven’s brief “Ode to Joy” composition. The group gave a rough but spirited performance after which Dudamel joined the palms of his hands in thanks and congratulated some of the young musicians.

Dudamel conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, a musical advocacy of brotherly love. During the composition’s last movement, the German lyrics sung by the massive choir were translated into English and Spanish in subtitles on the venue’s multiple video screens. “Joy, beautiful spark of the gods.” “Alegria, Hermosa Luz Divina.” “This kiss for all the world.” “Un beso para todo el mundo.”

Afteward, standing ovations turned to louder cheers when Gustavo uttered his first words in Spanish during the night, “I’m very excited. I think that some of us speak Spanish here.” He received just as much applause when he continued in English, “I’m proud to be Latino, I’m proud to be Venezuelan, and I’m very proud to be American. That’s the message of Beethoven.”