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On screens at the Music Center plaza, Dudamel rivets the crowd

October 8, 2009 |  8:21 pm

David Arrieta, 14, snuggled up in a sleeping bag outside the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion just after 6 p.m. There was no time to waste. He was hurriedly trying to finish his algebra homework before Gustavo Dudamel appeared on the screen before him. With a calculator beside him, he solved a few equations. "I have English and history next," he said, pointing to his backpack.

David took a few minutes to text friends to let them know where he was and whom he was about to see.

He and his mother, Frances Donato, 48, traveled from Covina -- "it only took 30 minutes!" -- and arrived around 5:30 p.m. Donato had used two e-mail addresses in the online lottery. 

"I take any chance I get to expose my son to classical music," she said. "I want to open his mind. I've heard a lot of great things about Dudamel. It's good to see someone young doing great things, And he's from Venezuela! How great is that? We're a city of diversity. He really represents that."

A group of three friends sat on the cold concrete before a TV screen in front of a tree adorned with lights. They didn't enter the lottery; they walked in and got tickets on standby.

"It's amazing what he's doing. He's so young, and look how far he's come. People are camped out here for him. For him! It's inspiring," said Ariselda Herrera, 27, of Boyle Heights.


"He's showing young Latinos what they can achieve when they might think their options are limited," said Mariella Garcia, 23, of South Los Angeles, who was missing "The Vampire Diaries" on TV to watch Dudamel.


"We were expecting one big screen. It's cool that they have all these screens so you're not squinting or peering over someone's shoulder. It's almost more intimate than seeing him live. And it's nice for those who can't normally afford tickets to these sort of shows," said Laura Castaneda, 26, of Boyle Heights. "If only they'd make the parking cheaper."


Shortly after 7 p.m., the lights on the plaza dimmed. Once the TV screens cut to a live feed from inside  Disney Hall, the outdoor crowd focused on whichever screen was nearest. When Dudamel walked across the stage, they cheered.


The trio of friends clapped with glee. The images of Dudamel's swooping hand motions were reflected in Herrera's glasses. She studied the screen intensely, her hands seeking warmth in her sweater pockets, and occasionally whispered to Castaneda as the music accelerated.


As the orchestra played for its new maestro, the scene outside the Pavilion was calm. Some people stood. A few plopped on stairs. The ones who came prepared had comfy blankets to keep them warm. Bags of snacks and bottles of wine were scattered throughout.


The melodies from the orchestra were sometimes accented with the buzzing sound of a helicopter or the chugging screech of a passing bus. But each viewer remained fixed on the nearest screen as Dudamel intensely guided each note.


By the time intermission came around, the three friends were fans.


"I'm amazed. It's so intense. He just goes wild. It reminded me of a Disney movie. I was waiting for the bad guy to come out. It was kind of like 'Fantasia,' " said Herrera.


"He's so cute. I love his dimples,"  Garcia said.

"I love his hair. The way it bounces when he gets really into it is cute. His arms must be exhausted," said Castaneda.


-- Yvonne Villarreal