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Gustavo Dudamel prefers European seating for L.A. Philharmonic (with caveats)

November 16, 2009 | 10:00 am

Dudamel

When Gustavo Dudamel led the Los Angeles Philharmonic earlier this month in Verdi's "Requiem," audiences may have noticed that the second violin section had reverted to its old seating arrangement, wedged between the first violins and the woodwind section.

This seating was the standard for the orchestra at its previous home in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Sometime after moving to Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2003, Esa-Pekka Salonen decided to shake things up by placing the second violin section on the opposite side of the stage from the first violins, in what is known as European seating -- and it has stayed that way for the most part ever since.

So does the "Requiem" mean that Dudamel has reversed Salonen's decision? The answer, according to violinists in the orchestra, is no.

They say Dudamel intends to keep the European seating introduced by his predecessor but that certain pieces like the "Requiem" require placing the second violins in their old spot.

"Gustavo said that the setup is only for the Verdi, since there were so many passages where the firsts and seconds had to be together," said Kristine Whitson, a second violinist in the orchestra.

She added that that she personally prefers the European arrangement: "I prefer to sit on the right of the conductor. I feel like I'm contributing more somehow -- I like being closer to the audience and feeling the energy of the audience closer to me."

In September, Alan Gilbert, the new music director of the New York Philharmonic, switched the orchestra to European seating (sometimes called German seating) from the traditional (or American) style. A number of other major symphony orchestras use variations of the European arrangement, but it is still regarded by some as radical.

Paul Stein, a second violinist who has been with the L.A. Philharmonic for more than 20 years, said that returning to the American-style seating for the Verdi "Requiem" felt strange.

"It was quite jarring actually," he said. "But Dudamel mentioned it was only temporary."

Sure enough, Dudamel's most recent performances this weekend found the second violin section back in its usual spot to the conductor's right.

Stein added that sitting to the right of Dudamel is a "great place for me, because the angle facing the conductor just seems a little bit more correct. Playing the violin, you have some difficult angles to deal with. Somehow, sitting opposite the first violins fixes that."

-- David Ng

Photo: Gustavo Dudamel conducting recently at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times

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