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Gustavo Dudamel: 'short' and 'chunky'?

May 12, 2010 |  9:58 pm

Dudamel Conductor Gustavo Dudamel is often called boyish, athletic, handsome and energetic. But "short" and "chunky"?

Those were the adjectives used by a reviewer for the San Jose Mercury News on the occasion of Dudamel's appearance Monday evening at San Francisco's Davies Symphony Hall. The concert was the conductor's first on his eight-city national tour with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the program included John Adams' "City Noir" and Mahler's First Symphony -- the same lineup that opened the current season at Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Dudamel also led the orchestra in an encore performance of a selection from Puccini's "Manon Lescaut."

On Tuesday, Dudamel performed at the same venue but the program featured Leonard Bernstein's Symphony No. 2, "Age of Anxiety," and Tchaikovsky's "Pathétique." French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet joined the orchestra for the former piece. 

Both concerts were sold out. In their reviews, the Bay Area critics dutifully remarked on Dudamel's celebrity status and his infectious energy. But they did not give the conductor a free pass when it came to his interpretations of the Mahler -- or even his physical appearance.

Richard Scheinin of the San Jose Mercury News wrote that Dudamel "isn't a physically imposing figure on the podium. He is short. He is chunky. Appearing at Davies Symphony Hall on Monday for the first of two concerts that have been sold out for six months, he didn't look as youthful and bright-eyed as he did on his last visit, two years ago."

The critic found Dudamel's take on the Mahler somewhat lacking: "The horns weren't spot-on, and the young conductor -- just a few years removed from his career's take-off in Venezuela -- sometimes pushed the strings so hard that a richness of sound was sacrificed." He was more impressed with "City Noir" (which he described as "60s jazz inside a David Lynch film"), writing that Dudamel and the orchestra were "over-the-top great."

Joshua Kosman of the San Francisco Chronicle had a mixed reaction to the two concerts: "At times Dudamel and the orchestra seemed utterly in sync, only to turn the page and come to grief on a simple question of ensemble or instrumental balance. The orchestra itself struggled in parts (the brass was particularly unpredictable) while excelling elsewhere (especially the strings)."

He added: "Dudamel seemed so intent on blazing his own individual path that he often left logic and rhetorical directness behind. In particular, his tendency to push and pull at the tempo, and his fondness for long silences, often interrupted the musical flow."

Janos Gereben of the site San Francisco Classical Voice wrote that "City Noir" was "one of the most powerful and accessible contemporary works heard" in the hall's history.

He added: "Except for a ragged opening minute (the orchestra was not quite ready for him), Dudamel did a wonderful job with the difficult, demanding piece, admirably supported by the orchestra. The brass section was especially impressive (while strings played their hearts out), and brilliant solos were in abundance, especially by Timothy McAllister (saxophone), Donald Green (trumpet), James Miller (trombone), and Carrie Dennis (viola)."

-- David Ng

Photo: Dudamel and the L.A. Philharmonic at Davies Symphony Hall earlier this week. Credit: Robert Durell / For The Times


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Comments () | Archives (7)

Apparently the LA Philharmonic's press department doesn't have the sway over the SF press they do with local LA critics where Dudamel has basked in a whole season's worth of "free passes" on everything. It's about time someone started seriously acknowledging the very real deficiencies in his conducting skills as they now stand.

1960's jazz, beginning with Mile's Kind of Blue, Coltrane's, Giant Steps, and Coleman's Shape of Jazz to Come, in the great year of 1959(my birth) through Mile's second great quintet's In a Silent Way in 69 are light years beyond anythng Adams and "contemporary' Euro writers could ever come up with.

Again, how come you people never have anything about jazz in this column? I know it is under the Entertainment headline(what isn't in LA?), but jazz is America's music, from all our cultures, and of the world, it IS Modern music. Euro musics couldn never get it, why bother? Stick to what fit their times, not what is forced and fake. This music is that of through Ingres and Delcroix, it doesnt work reflecting modern life, except as a fantasy vehicle of power for the "elite' their penguins playing in unison for their pleasure.

NOT exploring our world, defining humanity or reaching for god, they are Academic, and so, mediocre and stiff, and frontin. And nothing is worse than trying to be something you are not, so stealing from the modern "mileau" is better done by those such as Sondheim, who make it true even in artifice.

Lets hear what Mr Hancock is up to, he is the best pianist in America, as shown again with Lang Lang last year. And gee, guess what, he doesnt have a music degree, he took music and electrical engineering at Grinnel college but left before graduating. Got a real gig, learning from real teachers, the best. How about some reviews of Ruth Price's Jazz Bakery Moveable Feasts? Or at Catalina's?

Where is OUR music, those who arent literally brainwashed in art schools? Where is that which matches the intensity, power and passion of Mr Rodias Towers in Watts? The greatest work of art in the western US, yet ignored because the wealthy want comfort and the illusion of power, instead of truth and passion. Truly sculpture with gazebos, fountains, baths, and inlaid walls and floors. Where is the art, instead of artifice?

Mahler, great, love him. But thats a long time ago, still relevant, but not of today. A different world, where are the links that were built upon his work? Not contempt stuff which only appropriates(steals) from the true creators of Modern music, the Dolphy's(LA's own), the Bird's, the Shorter's, who still lives here? Enough of the Dude and his sore neck, how about life among US? Those not looking for distraction in the world, but OF it?

Save the Watts Towers, tear down the Ivories
Here's how.

The honeymoon is over only
to find one has married a pig in a poke .
The lang Lang of conductors who won't be here too long long .You can't fool everyone
all the time . Bombast only goes so far.

For the love of GOD enough with these Dudamel stories. Is this NEWS?! Who cares?! It's bad enough half of the CultureMonster stories are either about Eli Broad or Dudemal. God forbid the two of them ever have a tryst. Your heads will explode.

There are other cultural things to write about!

I love contradictory critics, who are sure they know how a piece should be played. And apparently there is only one correct way.

Contradictory: One says the strings were lacking, the other says the strings excelled. One says the brass was unpredictable, the other says the brass was especially impressive.

And reading the entire Chronicle review, it's interesting to me that he didn't criticize the new Adams piece -- because he didn't know it. So it's impossible to say the Phil wasn't interpreting it properly because he has no idea how it's supposed to be played. But lo, give the critics an old chestnut and their musical arrogance suddenly kicks in and nobody is playing it the way it should be played. Which means the way the critic has come to like it best after hearing umpteen performances.

The Bay Area criticism reminded me more than vaguely of the criticism Bernstein used to get as a conductor many decades ago. The more critics change, the more they stay the same.

Kosman's criticisms in SF Chronicle struck me as supercilious & superficial. Certainly the people in SF are entitled to prefer Tilson-Thomas but, as I responded in the Chronicle, he invites rebuttal with his dismissal of Dudamel's 4th movement in the Mahler as shapeless, loud and overbearing. What is his conception of the Mahler 1st? This is a young man's symphony - and what is the 4th movement if not tumultuous and full of sudden contrasts? Of course, I heard it here in LA and he heard it in SF but the enthusiastic response of the audience seems to show they heard about what we heard here a couple weeks ago.

Also, he seemed to be looking to find fault if he couldn't permit himself to be astonished and delighted by Dudamel's highly original take on the 2nd movement, a movement which our own Mark Swed described so beautifully back in October as having "the weight of a herd of elephants in perfect step."

Dudamel does have special gifts and sense of musicality. It doesn't mean you can't have a favorite Mahler conductor besides him but I think it's a shame that the music critic of a major cultural center like San Francisco can't seem to recognize that.

Richard Scheinin's review (San Jose Mercury News) was very positive, a generally excellent review (& well written). I encourage Philharmonic fans to follow the link and read it (& perhaps compare it to Kosman's negative Chronicle review).

Of the last movement (which Kosman called shapless, loud and overbearing), Scheinin writes: "The finale to the concert...began with crashing outbursts, beautifully corrosive, with tempos dramatically slowing and the volume drawing down to whispers. Dudamel gathered them back up into a swarm, more than once, and the performance grew frenetic, even savage, exposing the raging nobility of Mahler's score..."


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