The Real Thing: Gustavo Dudamel
What an amazing sight! A Tuesday night regular subscription concert of the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall. The fourth repeat of a program that, while very nicely put together, is not what you would call a box-office blockbuster: Chavez's Sinfonia India; Dvořák's Violin Concerto; Prokofiev's Fifth Symphony.
Outside on the Lincoln Center plaza were clots of people shouting out "Does anyone have a ticket to sell?" It reminded me of the signs people hold up every day at the Bayreuth Festival (consistently sold out years in advance), but such a sight is rare indeed in our concert halls. The reason? Simple - a 26-year-old Venezuelan conductor who is now an extraordinarily "hot" property in classical music: Gustavo Dudamel...
What is so wonderful about Dudamel is that the hype is justified! Often we see a superstar develop overnight, and then fizzle. I will go on the record now as saying that will not happen here. The sheer talent level is too deep. It is, in fact, astonishing. The New York Philharmonic musicians rarely pay a conductor the tribute of refusing to share a bow with him, but applauding him instead at the end of the concert. To see them do that for a 26-year-old is truly astonishing. After the concert, I spoke with a number of musicians who affirmed that Dudamel is the real thing, not just a superficially exciting conductor but a true musician who knows the scores, knows what he wants, and gets an orchestra to play as if they are discovering the music for the first time. Exactly the same thing I heard from quite a few Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians last season after he made his debut there.
One might worry that so much responsibility and visibility on the shoulders of a 26-year-old could crush him. I cannot think of any example, in my lifetime, of a conductor in his mid-twenties who has already stood on the podiums of the Boston, Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles orchestras (and he'll add San Francisco this season), and abroad the Philharmonia, the Leipzig Gewandhaus, and the Israel Philharmonic. And he's already the music director in Gothenburg, and adds to it the same position in Los Angeles in 2009. One might ask if it is too much too soon.
But those worries vanish after actually seeing seeing him at work. The videos of his Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra, and the in-the-hall experience of seeing him with the New York Philharmonic, make absolutely clear that this is the real thing. His podium presence, his ability to inspire musicians to play as if their lives depended on it, his ability to give performances that at the moment they are happening make you think this is the only way the music can go: All these things mark an astounding and unique talent. All one can do is look and listen in awe, and be thankful that we may have this talent in our world for the next half century or so.
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