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February 07, 2011

Photo: mine

The Los Angeles Philharmonic returns home this week following a European Tour marked by mixed reviews and two big announcements. The first of these was that Gustavo Dudamel has extended his contract as music director through the 2018-2019 season. This is undoubtedly good news for an organization that is increasingly invested in substituting publicity for artistic excellence. But while you can fool some of the people all of the time, the announcement of the 2011-2012 season schedule is a testament that his extended tenure as music director in Los Angeles is increasingly looking like our own local “lost decade.”

The schedule increasingly tells the tale of two Philharmonics. One honors the heritage of the ensemble’s greatest successes as a purveyor of new(er) music with a large number of commissions from major composers including most notably John Adam’s new oratorio The Gospel According to the Other Mary, which will close the season starting May 31, 2012. Then there is also the previously reported premiere of the new operatic fragment from Shostakovich, Orango, which will be conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen. There is also work from Philip Glass, Haas, Bettison, Matheson, Pereira, Chapela, Dubugnon, and Hillborg. It sounds exciting, and oddly Dudamel will have little to do with the majority of it. He will lead the Adams work and the two shorter pieces from Enrique Chapela and Joseph Pereira, who serves as the principal timpanist of the L.A. Philharmonic. The majority of the new works, even when they don’t occur in the “Green Umbrella” new music series, will be entrusted to visiting conductors and alumni.

And while there’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself, the projects Dudamel has elected to lead instead include such groundbreaking initiatives as a Mahler symphony cycle. This ill-conceived project will include performances by both the L.A. Phil and the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra during a visit to LA in late January and February. Dudamel has proven on multiple occasions that Mahler’s works fare poorly under his direction with little unity of vision. A whole cycle in one season promises to be overwhelming in a bad way. And while there will be an opera performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, the remainder of the programs led by Dudamel are backed with familiar warhorses at every turn. I think this is bad news and bears witness to some of the concerns I’ve had about Dudamel’s leadership all along. In a short piece defending him from skeptics and a perceived “backlash,” the maestro was quoted in Britain’s The Guardian as saying “The word 'professional' is destroying our art. In the end we are artists ... The most boring thing in the world is to see someone doing their job without passion.” And whether or not you believe the false dichotomy implied in this out-of-context quote, I would argue that in music, as well as all the performing arts, passion is not enough in itself. Trust me, I think I’m more passionate about Messiaen’s Saint Francois d’Assise than anyone in the world, but you so do not want to have me conduct it, direct a production of it, or even deliver coffee to the folks that could. That’s not to say the LA Philharmonic season on the whole is poor or that it isn’t filled with tons of exciting or interesting music. It’s just that audiences will have to increasingly decide which of the two L.A. Philharmonics they want to hear.



Last Friday, February 4, LA Phil conducted by Gustavo Dudamel performed Mahler's Ninth in Vienna Musikverein. To say that it was SRO crowd would be wrong because there was not a single inch of SR left anywhere inside the building. For example, there were people seating in both rear corners of the stage and hundreds more standing behind the main level seats. An American fire marshal would never allow this concert to proceed in such conditions. But he was not there and so it did. The symphony ended with Gustavo's customary 45 seconds of silence which was followed by a thunderous standing ovation that seemed to go on forever. After 12 minutes of this atrocity the orchestra has finally decided to leave the stage but the applause continued until the stage was completely empty and Gustavo had to come out one more time for a solo bow. If i didn't see and hear all this with my own eyes and ears, i would've never believed it. Isn't it outrageous that the audience in Vienna's legendary Musikverein behaved in such undiscriminating manner as if they had no idea what Mahler really should sound like? Don't they read blogs?? Don't they know that Dudamel's Mahler has not received the stamp of approval??? Everlasting shame on all of them!
When I was looking over the 2011-12 calendar the other day, it struck me that we're again the guinea pigs while a young-ish principal conductor learns his job.

Salonen didn't know much about the core Central European 18th/19th century rep when he started here, being the proud post-war modernist that he was. So horrible Beethoven and Brahms and Haydn it was for a while. He also programmed a Shostakovich cycle simply because he knew nothing about the music and wanted to explore it.

Seems as if Mr. Dudamel is doing the same here. There's some good programs throughout the season and at least he seems to be spending more time here in 2011-12 than he has in the past.
Two little observations.
1. Why do you say that Joseph Pereira "serves" as the principal timpanist? He is nobody's servant. He IS the principal timpanist.
2. Why do you "argue" that "passion is not enough in itself"? Argue with whom? Who says that it IS enough? No one that i can hear.
Thanks anyway...
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