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Gustavo Dudamel arrives to warm embraces and first rehearsal

September 30, 2009 | 12:36 pm

Dudamel

On any given morning, groups of tourists sporting sun hats and tote bags can be seen gathering on the corner of First Street and Grand Avenue, blithely backing off the curb with cellphone cams upraised to get a better angle on L.A.'s reigning temple of starchitecture, Walt Disney Concert Hall, home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

But today around 9:15 a.m., the eager tourists were missing the real story: Just down the block at another entrance to the hall, members of the Philharmonic were gathered on the stairs leading up to the Disney Hall gardens to await the arrival of Gustavo Dudamel, 28, and to give a "family greeting" to him and his wife, Eloísa Maturén, on Dudamel's first day of rehearsal with the orchestra under his new title of Los Angeles Philharmonic music director.

Dudamel

Now, Culture Monster loves celebrities as much as the next blog -- but really, someone getting out of a car  is usually not news unless it's a world leader, or someone who Twitters a lot making an arrival at the Oscars. But this is Dudamel, a.k.a "The Dude" and the supposed savior of classical music as we know it -- so his climbing out of a Lexus hybrid on a downtown street corner means something. (Read about Dudamania in Mark Swed's critic's notebook here and Reed Johnson's story here).

Cameras -- still, video and really huge -- jammed the area; Philharmonic President Deborah Borda and Philharmonic board Chairman David Bohnett hovered in anticipation while Borda exulted that the Phil just gotten word that the NBC Nightly News was planning a Dudamel feature for Thursday.

There's really no such thing as a formal greeting when it comes to Dudamel -- as he stepped from the vehicle, he waved to the cheering musicians; but the wave gesture soon turned into a Dudamel-style fist, thrust exultantly into the air. He obediently posed for photos with Borda and Bohnett at the foot of the stairs, but was soon charging upward to distribute a generous round of hugs, especially to the musicians who played a welcome fanfare on the steps.

Rehearsal

As he made his way to a buffet table set with coffee and pastries, Dudamel hailed the players with another illustrative hand gesture. "We go ... now! " he crowed, as he gleefully conducted with both hands in the air in anticipation of taking the podium at rehearsal.

One musician hung back from the phalanx of cameras: "I don't want to be 'the musician on the news with a muffin in her mouth,' " she deadpanned. Others seemed a bit intimidated by the heavy news presence, but at the encouragement of Borda they began to approach Dudamel, shake his hand or accept an embrace. Dudamel's every move was a photo opp: bear-hug a cellist, click click; take a sip of water with Borda, click click click ... 

Principal bass player Chris Hanulik was amused by all the hoopla -- but said that the arrival of Dudamel truly warranted the attention of the city. "It's thrilling for us, but in a larger sense for L.A. and the classical music scene," he said. "He's an incredibly dynamic person; he's a force of nature."

Violinist Barry Socher, who has been with the Philharmonic since 1981, agreed. The veteran musician has seen several transitions of music director at the Philharmonic, including the arrival of just-departed music director Esa-Pekka Salonen in 1992 and Andre Previn in 1985, but said: "I think this means more, in many ways ... he has such life and vibrancy and humility."

He added that the musicians see Dudamel not as their leader but as another member of the band -- just with a different role to play. "What's most important is his humility," Socher said. "Many conductors don't know what that word means -- much less exhibit it."

-- Diane Haithman

Photos, from top: Gustavo Dudamel and his wife, Eloísa Maturén, greet orchestra members and staff; Dudamel's first rehearsal as Los Angeles Philharmonic music director. Credits: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times

Related coverage:

Gustavo Dudamel starts off at a fast tempo

L.A. Phil to webcast Dudamel's Oct. 3 Hollywood Bowl concert

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