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Lionel Bringuier finishes for an injured Gustavo Dudamel at the L.A. Philharmonic [Updated]

May 7, 2010 |  2:01 pm

Lionel Gustavo Dudamel is an athletic conductor and athletes get hurt. Thursday night at Walt Disney Concert Hall, while conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic and readying the orchestra for a high-profile national tour, Dudamel lunged energetically early in the last movement of Dvorák’s Cello Concerto and pulled a muscle in his neck.

Philharmonic President Deborah Borda said that the 28-year-old Venezuelan music director heard a loud pop and lost sensation on one side. He managed to pump out enough endorphins to keep up a fiery performance, but he did not look himself at the curtain call. Most notably, he did not hug cellist Alisa Weilerstein, as he might have after her passionate performance, but that could have also been interpreted as a gracious gesture meant to draw attention to his soloist.

Backstage, Dudamel was described as being in great pain but insisting nonetheless on conducting Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony (“Pathetique”) after intermission. Instead, he was bundled off to the hospital. Tests revealed a muscle pull, and doctors cleared him to conduct the next run of the program Friday morning.

For Thursday’s audience, though, the evening proved a fascinating study in contrasts. The Philharmonic's  associate conductor, Lionel Bringuier, jumped in with a sizzling performance of the “Pathetique” that was radically different in sound and character than what would have been expected from Dudamel. But for the Philharmonic, this was far from the bookend planned to end its new music director’s news-making first season.

Dudamel’s opening-night October gala, televised through much of the civilized world and released on DVD, paired the premiere of John Adams’ “City Noir” and Mahler’s First Symphony. The home season finale was to have been another large-scale symphony from another Left Coaster -- Stephen Hartke’s Symphony No. 4 -- followed by another popular Romantic-period symphony. As with Adams and Hartke’s symphonies, Mahler’s First (in its final form) and the “Pathetique” were composed a year apart, 1894 and 1893, respectively. [Updated: A previous version of this review erred when it said Mahler's First was composed in 1893 and Tchaikovsky's "Patherique" in 1894.]

Composers being composers, Hartke’s symphony, which will be for organ and orchestra, was not ready in time and has been postponed to next season or the season after. Replacing it with Dvorák’s Cello Concerto offered a different historical curiosity, given that Dvorák and Tchaikovsky were contemporaries and the concerto was begun a year after the “Pathetique.”

Yet even that bit of history proved peculiar in the end. Dudamel tore -- unfortunately literally -- into Dvorák’s rhapsodic concerto, emphasizing rich, full sonorities and muscular rhythms. He was extroverted, soulful and bold.

Alisa Weilerstein, who is 27 and one of America’s rising classical stars, tore into Dvorák as well. And she, too, was soulful and bold, if in her own private universe, visibly transporting herself into little ecstasies. But she earns her excesses with a superb musicality and a fluidity of phrasing.

She also has, when you can hear it, a wonderful tone. You couldn't hear her all the time, however. More a chamber musician, she was often swallowed by the big orchestra, which is what really made her seem in not quite in the same realm as the orchestra.

There is little doubt that Dudamel was warming up for a Tchaikovsky performance in which he would squeeze every bit of feeling possible from a famous symphony full of exquisite suffering. That left Bringuier with the unenviable task of coming on stage after Borda announced the change and attempt, with no rehearsal, to convey his own ideas to an orchestra that had been carefully prepped by Dudamel.

The first movement opens with a mournful bassoon’s sob-like swells. Low strings sustain it. You can think of this as a window into the Russian soul if you like. Or not.

That opening was, understandably, a little tense Thursday. But for Bringuier it was also a foil for what came  later in the Allegro proper. With a whip-crack stroke, he set off in a ferocious gallop.

I don’t know, nor do I think science can tell us, how it is that certain conductors can produce a distinctive sound from an orchestra simply by standing in front of it. Suddenly, this was no longer Dudamel’s L.A. Philharmonic but Bringuier’s. The strings seemed to have less vibrato, the winds were more tart, the brass less oracular and more biting than they had been earlier that night.

This was an exciting “Pathetique,” not a sad one. Bringuier played with colors, created sharp contrasts, conducted with tremendous -- and convincing -- propulsion. He soaked up no more emotion than necessary. Once he and the orchestra settled in, he took big chances with fast tempos. The orchestra played as if on pins and needles, with the excitement and electricity of familiar music forced to sound fresh.

Bringuier saved the day.

-- Mark Swed

Photo: (top) Lionel Bringuier conducting Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 Thursday night at Walt Disney Concert Hall; (below) cellist Alisa Weilerstein. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles/Times [Updated: an earlier version of the caption for the top photo identified the conductor as Gustavo Dudamel.].

Comments () | Archives (18)

Indeed Lionel Bringuier was wonderful and exciting with the LA Phil last night! I'm excited that we'll see him conduct again at the end of the month.
It was a breathtaking evening all around.

There were a few moments in the frantic 3rd movement of the “Pathetique” when it seemed as if the orchestra might fly off the stage.

My husband and I were discussing this change on the way home. What effect does the conductor actually have? Would an orchestra which had been rehearsed and prepped by one conductor radically shift gears for another coming in at the last minute, or would they just continue as they had been rehearsed. You indicate that there was a big difference in what might have been Dudamel's performance and that of Bringuier. I guess I would have to listen to them side by side to discern that. Have you been able to do that? I wish I could have attended a rehearsal and then I may have been able to hear it also.

Conductors have the power of suggestion. The baton makes no sound. The musicians playing are the ones who deserve more of the credit for saving the day.

The most obvious thing a conductor does is setting the tempo, which means that the orchestra can't possibly "continue as they had been rehearsed" when a different person is on the podium and the speed of the music immediately becomes different. The conductor is the person whose interpretational decisions about tempos and dynamics (volume levels) form the basis for the unifying vision that the orchestra must follow in order for the music to make sense. A large piece like Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony has countless different gradations of speeds within it and Lionel's reading of those was substantially different from Gustavo's. There are of course many other aspects of interpretation, more subtle than speeds and volume, that are also directly influenced by the person on the podium, such as the character of sound and details of articulation. The orchestra had absolutely no idea what Lionel was going to do with the piece and had to adjust instantly and in perfect sync. That is not easy at all.

There is absolutely no proof that Lionel Bringuier hadn't rehearsed the piece in the past - it is only known to us that he didn't rehearse with this actual philharmonic- , and it seems like a setup from his managers and Borda to force admiration of the public towards him.
In an article in a french newspaper, it is said that Bringuier was "noticed" by someone in the public, "by pure chance", and thus proposed himself to replace Dudamel.

In fact, the french article exagerates and deforms the truth: Deborah Borda knew he was already there , that and the fact that Lionel Bringuier is officially the assiociate conductor of the same Philarmonic as Gustavo Dudamel, and not a perfect stranger attenting the concert.

Wikipedia even states him as being a emerit pianist when he doesn't even play this instrument,which is quite odd. His brother is a pianist, but he isn't.

Too much noise is being made around this Bringuier, as if to give him more credibility, but why?

Every performance has what's called a "backup" conductor. Things happen - like this, and the show must go on. Bringuier was the backup. And a ploy by managers? Let's get real - even if you are Gustavo, Mehta, Giulini, etc, you don't give up an opportunity to conduct the LA Phil halfway through a concert for a publicity stunt. And you don't become an associate conductor with LA Phil without some skill and abilities.
From the podium, I can say from experience that the conductor can absolutely change the sound, even without the musicians knowing it. Every stance, movement, gesture, look, and breath have an effect on the musicians - they react to everything we do, and the best conductors understand this and use it to achieve the composer's intentions. The orchestra might make it through the piece w/out a conductor, but it wouldn't have gone smoothly and wouldn't have the cohesive thread that is necessary for such pieces to affect the audience. Bringuier most likely did not rehearse the piece with the orchestra and the fact that Swed doesn't mention any hiccups speaks wonders about his skill.

The facts are as follows:
1) Lionel Bringuier is an honest young man and he told me personally that he had never conducted this symphony in his life before that evening at the WDCH,
2) he had definitely not rehearsed a single note of the symphony with our orchestra,
3) no major musical organization would ever dare attempt such a stunt just for publicity - it is far too risky musically for the orchestra as well as for the conductor.
As the associate conductor, Lionel was present at Gustavo's rehearsals that week and it was his job to step in when the music director was physically unable to continue conducting the concert.

@You have no idea @LAPhilMusician

Backup conductors and assistants often ....assist to the rehearsals.

And even if they don't, what counts is that the orchestra rehearsed with DUDAMEL , not with Bringuier, thus it won't make a tremendous difference who conducts in the end, especially if the conductor is the assistant, since has observed the chief conductor's routine more than once. Hint.

You CAN be a LA assistant conductor , JUST because you've won a famous conductor international competition, being backed up by a lobby. YES it is possible. He popped out of nowhere, guess why.

Im' far from being the only one who dislikes this excessive publicity as the one we've read in this article. Help yourself by reading the other comments.

Instead of babbling endlessly, just cite me in which CDs I can hear Bringuier displaying his supposedly great talent , playing either cello or piano ?
And if you find ANY, how were they received by the public and the critics?
Enough said.

As always, wannabe L.B. defenders will promptly come to the rescue once again, how strange.

What i said in my comment above are facts and i know them because i was there, participating in all those rehearsals and performances, plus i know all the people involved personally.
In this particular case it did make a big difference that Lionel conducted the performance after Gustavo rehearsed, because Lionel's interpretation was very different from Gustavo's. That is neither defense nor attack - it's just a fact.
By the way, Lionel became LA Phil's conductor by winning a competition over several other promising young maestros all of whom had a chance to lead a rehearsal with the orchestra - Lionel was the top choice of the orchestra as well as that of Esa-Pekka Salonen who hired him on the spot. And Lionel's skills as an instrumentalist have nothing to do with this. He is a very talented conductor - that's all there is to it.
There are countless outstanding conductors who have no recordings at all as instrumental soloists. Take what is arguably the greatest symphony orchestra of the last 60 years - Berlin Philharmonic - and look at their last four principal conductors: Furtwangler, Karajan, Abbado, Rattle - none of them has any known recordings as instrumental soloists. All four are among the greatest conductors of their respective generations, by any measure.
Fortunately for Lionel, he does not need defenders - his conducting speaks for itself. You either like his music making or you don't - that is a matter of taste. But do not make speculative statements about something you know nothing about. More than enough said.

I've heard Bringuier conduct at several concerts over the last few years. (Seems like a few years anyway.) Green Umbrella and regular series, maybe at a chamber concert, too. I look forward to many more.

One can't "hear" the expertise or talent of a conductor on a cd. Buy tickets. Attend concerts. Listen to a piece by one conductor on more than one occasion. And then come back and listen to the same piece conducted by another conductor. Have fun while you do it.

Enough is enough , stop being condescending, telling me to attend concerts and such.You obviously are personal friends of Bringuier.

Bringuier is FAR from being as talented as Karajan , Abbado or any other renown conductor and far as being an acclaimed solist as well.
You're just full of excuses.
He shouldn't brag about being an excellent solist then.

People aren't stupid, they'll notice with time what's going on.

That and the fact that it's utterly stupid to claim that the orchestra performed in a radically different way once under Bringuier's orders. Pure nonsense. As long as he respected a TEMPO similar to that of Dudamel, the musicians played as they rehearsed, nothing more nothing less.
Only a fool who never assisted to a rehearsal may pretend that a orchestra changes it's manner of interpreting a piece at the very last moment.

You didn't fail to react PROMPTLY as I predicted , defending Bringuier so ridiculously: READ THE OTHER COMMENTS BESIDES MINE, their authors weren't impressed at all as you , on the contrary.

What is worth your "word" when you say "I'm positive he didn't know the piece before, he told me that personally"?
It's worth it's weight of WIND!

The fact that he won a contest deosn't mean much: he POPPED out of nowhere, being unheard of before that, I am repeating myself.
It suffices to know jury members or to have certain acquaintances and it's in the pocket. He has a LOT of backing up,I'd even say TOO MUCH and you know it. If that's not having support from a lobby, then what is it?

Time will tell : a hype that lasts a few years only to be forgotten after a while, with all the other false geniuses.Overrated.

I have played under the baton of Bringuier many times and I can say that he is a very good conductor. He is 23 years old, so you can't compare to Abbado, but maybe in the future.....

This is addressed to the person who has used various monikers above here but whose ignorance on the subject remains consistent and unchanged.
Not one of us can tell right now whether Lionel is as talented as any of the great conductors of today and yesterday, unless we saw those famed maestros perform when they were 23 years old. Did you? The only one of them whose conducting at that age i knew personally is Simon Rattle and he was surely already outstanding, but all i can say about Lionel is that he may develop into a very good one or he may not. His natural gifts are impressive and so is his potential, but only time will tell. As a person, he is definitely not a braggart and he certainly has never called himself "an acclaimed soloist" because, just like most of the best conductors of past and present, he isn't. He is, however, already a fine conductor.
The orchestra did indeed performed very differently when he conducted the Pathetique, compared to the way Gustavo rehearsed it. The orchestra had no choice but to play it differently because Lionel's interpretation was quite different. For example, most of Lionel's tempos were in fact substantially different from Gustavo's, some of them - especially in the first movement - radically so (for the most part, they were faster). There were many other differences in his interpretation, some of them quite subtle, including pacing, dynamics, phrasing and so on. The orchestra was able to respond instantaneously to his leadership because this symphony is played rather often and the musicians know it very well, so they could therefore concentrate on Lionel's conducting throughout the performance and follow it as closely as possible, even though, since the piece was rehearsed in such a different way, this surely wasn't easy.
If you have a proof that he had conducted a performance of this piece before that evening, show it. Otherwise, we have to believe him that he hadn't. The fact is, i know the guy and he would not lie about things like that, which is why i am confident that you will never find any proof to the contrary.
There was no "jury" as such in the competition that i mentioned before - conducting candidates were "judged" by the entire orchestra and its artistic administration, all led by Esa-Pekka Salonen. The fact that Lionel won that contest against all other candidates when he was the youngest of them at 19, while making an extraordinarily positive impression on the orchestra musicians, as well as on Maestro Salonen, does mean a lot. Of course he "popped out of nowhere" - he was 19 at the time! How many well-known 19-year-old conductors do you know? Furthermore, how many musicians of any age can you name that were well-known when they became assistant conductors? In 99% of all cases, including of course this one, becoming an assistant is the very beginning of a conductor's career. No well-known conductor would ever be interested in such a position.
Not liking Lionel's music making (or anybody else's, for that matter) is obviously each individual's right - it's a matter of taste. But insinuating all kinds of dirty dealings, in a milieu about which you clearly know very little, is simply wrong and terribly unwise.

@LA Phil Musician (aka " a plant promoting Bringuier " )

You're one of many lobbyists who try desperatly to promote BY ANY MEANS L.Bringuier.
You invest an exaggerated amount of energy to defend him as if he were your own son and that is more than necessary to raise suspicion.

I must admit I was surprised a nobody such as him won the prize in Besancon, but nowadays, France has lost it's credibility in many international classical music contests, delivering prizes to competitors based solely on their RELATIONS , origins (russians, chinese etc) , religion etc.
It SUFFICES to check the latest first prizes in some french competitions to see what is going on. Hopefully it is not the case with every competition in that country.

It is aknown fact that Bringuier received much more "help" than he deserved, which doesn't mean he isn't a valid musician.
He's FAR from being what he's advertised and most assuredly NOT a genius nor a child prodigy and his interpretation and performances are at most STANDARD if not SUBSTANDARD.
There isn't one CD of him playing cello that has been acclaimed by the classical music community. I call that popping out of nowhere.
Besides, there is nothing as simple as learning by heart a taped conducting performance (perfmormed by a true maestro) and simply mimicking it in a conducting competition, not to mention the lobbying in his favor amongst the jury members. End of discussion.

Time will tell and lobbyists wil be proven wrong. L.B is not by any means "exceptional" nor a prodigy.

Special PS for "LAphilmusician" : you mock my pseudo, but never youself have you revealed your true name. You're a PLANT , as there are so many on forums and other blogs, and your ONLY purpose is to promote L.Bringuier and his other "buddies".

Wow, it took you over seven months to come up with that wimpy response... This is truly hilarious!
Most of my rebuttal is contained in my previous comments. But i want to just remind you once again that a musician's accomplishments as an instrumentalist have nothing whatsoever to do with his or her quality as a conductor. For example, during the last eight decades or so the LA Phil has had eight principal conductors and only one of them was a noted instrumental performer who has made numerous recordings as a solo instrumentalist. Well, it just so happens that that one musician, though undeniably talented, was the least successful of the eight maestros and could not even last four full years in the position. If you know anything about the subject, you can easily guess who that is.
As for Maestro Bringuier, in addition to his work with the LA Phil, he is also now in his second season as Music Director of the Orquesta Sinfónica de Castilla y León in Valladolid, Spain. Highlights among his recent engagements include (and here i am shamelessly copying from the Boston Symphony's website) "returns to Mostly Mozart New York, the Swedish Radio Symphony, the BBC Symphony, as well as a debut performance at the BBC Proms. Future projects include a debut with the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood, and subscription debuts with the Cleveland Orchestra, the Munich Philharmonic, NDR Sinfonieorchester Hamburg, Tonhalle Orchester Zurich, the Bamberger Symphoniker, the City of Birmingham Symphony, the Orquesta Nacional d’Espana, the Rotterdam and Oslo Philharmonic, as well as return guest appearances with the BBC Symphony, Radio-France Philharmonic, Helsinki Philharmonic and Los Angeles Philharmonic. In 2011/12 Lionel Bringuier will also conduct a new production of Carmen at the Royal Swedish Opera. Winner of the 1st Prize at the 49th Besançon Young Conductors Competition in 2005, an award he received by unanimous decision of the jury, Lionel Bringuier also received the competition’s Audience Award, as well as the Players Award from the competition’s orchestra, the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse. Since this triumph, he has conducted some of the top orchestras in the world including the Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden, New York Philharmonic and the Cleveland Orchestra". Not too shabby for any young conductor, let alone a 24-year-old. As you can see, he hardly needs "defenders" and "promoters" like me. And he clearly has nothing to fear from uninformed "critics" like you. He is doing quite well, thank you very much, and he certainly deserves it.

UNLIKE YOU.... I am not 24/7 in front of my computer checking on the web what some may say about Bringuier!!!!
Seven months to reply? That's because I have a...life!!
A life which not dedicated to defend a -nincompoop- soon forgotten.

The orchestra for which he's working now has signed contracts in different countries around the world, there's nothing special about seeing Bringuier or ANY OTHER assistant being assigned to a certain musical festival.

Bringuier has a long list of very very influent contacts who could virtually make him conduct wherever he desires .
And when I say very, I mean very.
No need to repost the whole curriculum from wikipedia, everyone can see you're far too passionate with this whole matter, it's more than just "knowing him" in your case.

People talk a lot and music lovers know all about this and Bringuier's popping out of nowhere story has made many laugh.

The way you cite with an intriguing parcimony every detail of his CV shows how much of a braggart Bringuier is, in a way no less than his defenders such as you.

Many of the influent lobbyists who aggressively promoted Bringuier and a certain community are well known, it's a secret for no one to see what is going on in international competitions, but it's not the place to discuss this here.

Anyways, he's not the only musician to earn titles he didn't deserve.
As I said, it suffices to know the right people, to have truckloads of cash to fork away as "gifts" for jury members ..or to simply show proof to powerful lobbyists/magnats you belong to a certain ethnic and/or religious and/or political group * , and you'll see then heaven and earth shaken to make you climb in a heartbeat the ladder of success.
But there's always a problem: it doesn't last forever.
The public grows quickly tired of fake prodigies after a while and sponsors need to finance new proteges.

All these invitations to participate in musical projects you've cited are either part of the "prize pack" of the Besancon contest, as they could simply be part of the LA philharmonic's duties around the globe.
Non-connoisseurs should also know that being assigned such a passive function as "musical director" and other similar redundancies is nothing but a honorific function, often given as a result of knowing influential people .

Beginners who may come across this article should check up and notice that all this pissing contest syndrome of citing functions and appearances at festivals is more than suspicious for an ASSISTANT conductor.
an assistant who needs assitance.
L.B. is an assistant conductor and that's as far as he'll ever go: an assistant amongst others.
Influence has certain limits, there are other fake prodigies who are waiting their turn to rise and benefit from the "help"

I see why you're so nervous, blogger "LA-PhilMusician" , it's because I touched the soft spot: lobbyists, Bringuier being a commoner with no particular talent and the fact that nincompoops are washed away as time passes by .

The real thing is: I hope Bringuier pays you well to be 24/7 on the web to promote him. Or else you're a genuine sucker.

Time will tell, dot.

* politics? Indeed, a vile gimmick. It suffices to read the articles in French which compared Lionel Bringuier to the son (Jean Sarkozy) of the actual french president Nicolas Sarkozy.
Long articles which were written on various blogs to attempt showing how L.Bringuier -supposedly- never needed any help to succeed, unlike Jean Sarkozy who was placed by his father at the head of the famous EPAD (Public Establishment for Installation of La Défense).
A simple and grotesque smokescreen to hide that Bringuier also succeeded with the help of lobbyists.
When politics and other disgusting matters start to enter the world of arts, it simply -reeks- .

See you in the next seven months or so, when I'll be back from holidays to check out your answer while you'll have gone completely squirrely about it all along.

All you were able to do here once again was to give us more of the same: plenty of unfounded accusations and ugly innuendos with not a single shred of credible evidence to support them. Incidentally, none of your comments contains even a single word about what exactly you don't like in Lionel's conducting. You have also now made another important error: at the age of 19 he indeed started as an assistant with the LA Phil, but he is no longer "just an assistant", because a couple of years ago he was promoted to the position of the orchestra's Associate Conductor, which means, among other things, that, in addition to helping the Music Director in rehearsals (and by the way Gustavo respects Lionel's opinions very much), he now also conducts regular subscription concerts himself, both at the Walt Disney Concert Hall and at the Hollywood Bowl, just like any other guest conductor, with other young conductors actually assisting him. For example, he is leading the Orchestra in a nice Smetana-Schumann-Dvorak program as soon as next week at the WDCH, so come and enjoy it, or criticize if so inclined. The rest of my response to this latest diatribe immediately above here is in my previous comments and there is no need to keep repeating. Not a single one of my statements has been proven wrong here. As for personal attacks, they don't deserve a response because they are preposterous and have no merit whatsoever.


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