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Gustavo Dudamel and celebrity

January 22, 2011 |  6:00 am

A week before classical music’s latest celebrity sensation, Gustavo Dudamel, filled the Hollywood Bowl for a performance of Bizet’s “Carmen” last summer, Princeton University Press published Fred Inglis’ “A Short History of Celebrity.” Lord Byron, Marilyn Monroe and Tiger Woods made the cut, but Hitler, alas, is Inglis’ “supreme celebrity.” Fame clearly has it pluses and minus.

What does this mean for Dudamel? As the most charismatic young conductor since Leonard Bernstein (and perhaps the most gifted), he’s now everywhere, including on the small screen (Jay Leno, PBS) and the big screen (LA Phil Live). The advantages this kind of attention brings to classical music are invaluable (look what Tiger Woods did for golf). But celebrity’s power to corrupt is equally enormous (look what happened to Tiger Woods).

In a Sunday essay -- with a little help from Marshall McLuhan -- I look at how celebrity has helped shape, and sometimes pervert, some of the greatest classical musicians.

-- Mark Swed

Photo: Gustavo Dudamel conducting "Carmen" at the Hollywood Bowl in August. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times.