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The ups and downs of Dudamelmania

September 26, 2009 | 11:30 am


It’s here: Dudamelmania.

Gustavo Dudamel -- a.k.a. GD and the Dude -- doesn’t hit town until Wednesay, but the Los Angeles Philharmonic has certainly gone into high promotional gear for its new music director, and the media is taking the bait big time. Though well aware of the risk of overexposure and too-high expectations, we at the L.A. Times are hardly blasé as we examine the Dudamel phenomenon. For more on those expectations see my critic's notebook in this weekend's Arts & Books section.

When I last spoke with Dudamel in May in his dressing room in Gothenburg, Sweden (where he is music director of the Gothenberg Symphony), I asked whether he is prepared for the hoopla.

“In a way it’s wonderful,” he said, his eyes sparkling. “It’s important when you can go to people who don’t know classical music. If we can get their attention, build a new community downtown and also develop interest in community concerts, I think this will be a good example to the rest of the symphonic world."

It’s all, that is, about the music.

Unfortunately, though, danger signs are already apparent. How much money has the L.A. Philharmonic just thrown away on a silly video game and Dudamel iPod app that is supposed to show something about conducting?  This is really just celebrity hype that uses Berlioz as jingle -- and neither the game nor the app work all that well.

Next, look at the nonsense coming out of the Music Center. In L.A. Weekly, the Center’s president, Steven D. Roundtree, parrots the phony old line about aging orchestra audiences, which makes it sound as though the Dudamel hullabaloo is some kind of marketing ploy.

Fortunately, Dudamel so far has the right priorities.

“It’s so exciting, you cannot imagine how exciting,” Dudamel said in Sweden about his anticipation for his new life in Los Angeles. “It’s exciting to build things. That’s what’s beautiful.” 

-- Mark Swed

Photo: Los Angeles Philharmonic billboard on Sunset Boulevard. Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (4)

Sir, you are downer.
I've always wanted to go the Disney Hall. Now that Gustavo is coming, I will go. I feel like we are in Mozart's time: A young conductor coming to a world renown city to make an impact in segment, that for the most part was ignored by most of the population. I think that with Gustavo, classical music will have a great revival here in Los Angeles, and can become a mecca for future music players.

In a few weeks, I'm going to the Walt Disney Concert Hall for the first time, and I'm thrilled to see Dudamel in action. When I read the other L.A. Times article about Dudamel's childhood, I saw so many similarities to my own: being born to young, unwed (and amazing) parents and having a wonderful supportive family; falling in love with music at a young age, starting music lessons at 6 ... simply put, his story just evokes a lot of pride. I'm definitely feeling the energy and excitement surrounding his arrival to Los Angeles.

Yes, you have certainly taken the bait.

"...he said, his eyes sparkling..."

You're in love with someone you hardly know. He's married dude, get over him.

Why do you make it sound like the symphony stands in ruins, ground to dust by the devastating tenure of Salonen, in need of rescue by your new hero? I'll give the kid the benefit of the doubt - I'm sure he's good - but he's not exactly taking a challenging role here. Great musicians in an iconic concert hall in a town that loves and lives for the performance arts. What exactly remains to be built?

Having had the opportunity to talk with Gustavo on several occasions, i can assure you, MJ, that "his eyes sparkling" is not an exaggeration but a simple statement of fact. If you are paying attention, you can see that all this talk of "saving classical music" is not at all about rescuing the orchestra itself - it is in fine shape, as you correctly pointed out - but about making classical music a larger part of life for a larger number of people. That is, without a doubt, a very tall order and only time will tell whether or not Gustavo Dudamel will be able to succeed in this difficult task. But that is definitely what the fuss is all about.


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