Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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And The Hits Keep on Coming

May 21, 2010


It appears that the second week of the LA Philharmonic's national tour under music director Gustavo Dudamel is not being received much better than the first. Despite the dispatch of KUSC staff and the Los Angeles Times' Mark Swed in an effort to provide some damage control, the lukewarm reviews continue to roll in from many quarters.

The New York Times' Anthony Tommasini notes there is a lot of work to be done to get the orchestra back to the level of regard it had on an a national stage even as recently as a year ago,
But part of the job description for a music director at a major American orchestra involves fostering the technical skills of the players and giving assured, fresh performances of works in the central repertory. In this regard, Thursday’s concert was a disappointment....

But Mr. Dudamel has to tend to the technical maintenance of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and may need to spend more time, as the Tchaikovsky performance suggested, immersing himself in the repertory.
The word from Philadelphia and Peter Dobrin was not much better,
Here was a slightly unkempt performance of John Adams' City Noir, a signature piece of this orchestra penned by its own creative chair, and an unremarkable Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6. But classical music was winning friends. Did it matter that many came for something other than the music?

With a rags-to-riches story and a media presence of perhaps unprecedented proportions, Dudamel, as leader of a major orchestra at a relatively young age, represents everything right classical music is doing today. Or wrong.

It depends entirely on what you think the field should be banking on as its future. The most cynical listener figures that the Los Angeles Philharmonic has recalculated aspects of the job once considered ancillary (community relations, education, fund-raising) as primary now, and a winsome persona is more important than revelatory interpretations.

I'd rather think that the Los Angeles board, administration, and players really believe they have a great musical thinker on their hands. But that's not who Dudamel is - not now, at 29, not Wednesday night in Verizon Hall.
As some consolation, at least The Washington Post's Anne Midgette was willing to brush aside the serious problems she acknowledged along with everyone else, by highlighting the excitement and high spirits of an enthusiastic conductor and crowd at a classical music concert.
There's no question that Dudamel is a brilliant talent, but there have always been things to criticize in his approach. He is an instinctive musician, but sometimes seems to conduct for the moment rather than with an eye to the whole work. On Monday, one could find plenty to carp at if one was so inclined: balance issues, shaky entrances, lackluster moments from the brass.

Frankly, though, that didn't matter, because Dudamel and the orchestra also offered one of the most involving and compelling performances of Tchaikovsky's "Pathétique" symphony I've ever heard. This was music played by someone who loves music, someone who had an idea where he was going with the piece. And the orchestra opened its collective heart and went right along with him. Perfect? No. Gorgeous? Yes.
So apparently it doesn't matter if the music is any good or not, as long as your heart is in the right place. After having had to listen to the Dud conduct all season in L.A., I'd take a little more skill and a little less goodwill in a hot second if given the chance. As before, these are only excerpts from the reviews, of course, so I’d encourage you to follow the links to read the whole thing yourself. The good news is that the L.A. Philharmonic will be back home next week to finish off the season. this time under the capable hands of Lionel Bringuier.


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