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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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