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Dispatch from San Francisco: Gustavo Dudamel and the L.A. Phil open their national tour

May 11, 2010 | 11:31 am

GustavoSF The houselights stayed dim at the start of Monday night’s concert at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco for longer than usual, as if to milk the moment for all it was worth. Only a few extra seconds elapsed before Gustavo Dudamel strode on stage to join the Los Angeles Philharmonic. But the sense of anticipation in the concert hall seemed to make those seconds feel like an eternity.

Just as he has bewitched Los Angeles audiences since becoming music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic last fall, so the charismatic 28-year-old conductor has quickly brought Bay Area audiences under his spell. A pair of sold-out concerts in San Francisco on Monday and Tuesday night marked the launch of Dudamel’s inaugural tour as music director of the Philharmonic as well as the start of the orchestra’s first national tour in almost a decade.

Following the orchestra’s performance, the habitually staid San Francisco classical music audience behaved as if its favorite baseball team had just scored a home run. Nearly every attendee in the packed 2,700-seat auditorium rose to his or her feet at the end of the concert, which featured two works that the orchestra performed side by side for the first time at Dudamel’s inaugural gala last October -- John Adams’ City Noir and Gustav Mahler’s First Symphony.

“There’s always excitement around a Gustavo concert,” said Donato Cabrera, the San Francisco Symphony’s assistant conductor. “He has the ability to draw people’s undivided attention.”

An isolated few audience members weren’t quite as willing to buy into the Dudamania, however. With Mahler being a major focus of interest for San Francisco Symphony music director Michael Tilson Thomas, local audiences have been exposed to many high-quality performances of the composer’s work in recent years.

“I wasn’t so impressed with the Mahler,” said public radio host Alan Farley. “Part of the problem is that the standard for Mahler here is so high.”

Here's my full report on the evening.

-- Chloe Veltman

Photo: Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic at San Franciscos Davies Symphony Hall during the opening performance of the orchestra’s national tour. Credit: Robert Durell / For The Times