Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Adjustment Disorder

November 28, 2008

Dudamel, Brewer, and the LA Philharmonic
Photo: mine 2008

Gustavo Dudamel is back in Los Angeles this week, and, after some much publicized appearances with the Israel Philharmonic, he’s back on stage with the Los Angeles Philharmonic for two weeks of shows. Despite what the incessant puff pieces in the Los Angeles Times would have you think, many people here, myself included, have significant reservations about the artistic direction of the organization with this new leadership. I’ve not been overwhelmed by any of Dudamel's stops here either with the L.A. Philharmonic or the insanely overrated Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra. So I attended tonight’s performance with some trepidation. I’m trying to keep an open mind because, like it or not, Dudamel's leadership is something I’m going to have to adjust to. Still, it's a very bitter pill to swallow knowing what we’ve had here in recent years under Esa-Pekka Salonen.

The program included Ligeti’s Atmosphères, Strauss' Four Last Songs sung by Christine Brewer, and Beethoven’s 6th Symphony. The show was enjoyable if not great and is a reminder of two very important points about our music director-elect. First, he can turn the whole “Dudamel approach” off at times. Up until now, Dudamel has taken a big, forceful approach with a hopped-up sound for virtually everything he's led, which while crowd pleasing, grates on the nerves after awhile. Tonight, however, during both the Ligeti and Strauss, the conductor exercised remarkable restraint. However, he had little to substitute for it. The Ligeti was fine - not entirely spooky, but certainly formeless enough to work. Dudamel had exquisite control of the audience holding everyone in dead silence after the completion of the piece for what felt like minutes. The Strauss however fared less well. The orchestra sounded wooden, at times hurriedly paced and robotic. Luckily, Christine Brewer is so amazingly talented that she couldn’t have cared less, rolling over the huge orchestra effortlessly. She was chewing up the back up band and spitting them out. Her beautiful soaring tone rang out, and, while the strings swirled behind her in a pleasing way, it wasn’t quite as sorrowful as it could have been.

The second lesson this evening was that the over-the-top Dudamel approach sometimes works fantastically well with an array of pieces. Take Beethoven for instance. The second half of tonight’s bill was occupied by the 6th symphony which is not typically anyone's idea of a barn burner. But here is was big, looming, and aggressive. It seemed to spring to life with this full robust take on it. These undercooked early romantics seem to fare well in Dudamel’s hands and Beethoven seems to bloom here. I must admit this perforamnce held my attention better than any No.6 in recent memory. So maybe there is light at the end of the tunnel after all.




While recognizing that everyone who attends has a right to his or her opinion about a performance, one of the remarkable things about the critical reviews for Gustavo Dudamel from around the nation — including virtually every well-known critic writing today — has been their uniform consistency in acclaim. Moreover, those reviews have been matched by the enthusiastic reception given to the young Venezuelan conductor (and his Simón Bolivár Youth Symphony Orchestra), a reaction like I've almost never heard in my nearly 30 years of writing music criticism. Now, we all could be wrong — few music critics I know claim infallibility — but perhaps you might want to at least consider rethinking your distaste for Dudamel.

Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News

Unbelievable! I just can't believe a seemingly intelligent person wrote the last comment! Is there no room for an honest well reasoned dissenting opinion? Mr. Thomas is advising you to relinquish your mental capacities and surrender to group think. Resist!

Never surrender your independent thought and judgement. I'd rather read your witty and insightful reviews then most of what pours out of "virtually every well know critic writing today."

Jim McDaniels
Well, I just returned from the Sunday matinee performance, and while I agree with your thoughts regarding the Ligeti, the orchestra sounded much better in the Strauss, & Christine's voice was wonderous - no surprise there.
But the 6th just got to me - that second movement was taken at the most leisurely pace I can ever remember, yet held together perfectly. Thought I could smell the grasses. Then of course in the third movement, Dudamel really got worked up, and the orchestra really delivered. It was glorious, and I must say, it deserves to be heard in Disney Hall, not the Hollywood Bowl.
Ariana Ghez's oboe playing was superb as always.
Going next Sunday for Alpine Symphony and Mozart PC #23.
The name is "Bolívar", with the accent on the "í", but so far I haven't been as impressed as I am supposed to be. Euphoria is constantly being promoted in the music world, just as it is elsewhere in the art world. This is nothing new to me.
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