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Dudamel: the early, early years

October 1, 2009 |  3:31 pm


When Gustavo Dudamel was 3, it was clear to his family that the youngster was all about music — to the chagrin of some members of his family.

As the 28-year-old joins the Los Angeles Philharmonic this week as its music director, the Spanish-language newspaper Hoy is showcasing photos of the young Gustavo and a conversation with family and friends about his formative years in Venezuela. Here are translated excerpts from Doria Barrios’ story, from her interviews in Caracas.

It was 1978. The young couple of Solangel Ramirez Viloria and Oscar Dudamel Vasquez lived in Barquisimeto in the state of Lara.

They both were 20 and had thousands of dreams and projects for their lives. But three years later after they started dating, the young woman discovered she was pregnant.

“It was a surprise because we were not married yet. But since I met Oscar I wanted to have a baby with him because I loved him so much,” said Dudamel’s mother, known to everyone as “Sol” (Sun).

Because of musical projects important to Oscar and herself, she said, the support of his parents was vital for the young couple — even though the grandparents-to-be were a little upset at first because the couple were very young to be having a baby.

Gustavo 15 “But still, they welcomed us in their home and helped us with everything. He was our only son,” Dudamel’s mother said. “After him, we didn’t try to have another son.”

Baby Gustavo was born Jan. 26, 1981.

His grandmother, Engracia Vasquez de Dudamel, explained that ever since Mi Chiquito (My Little One) — as she lovingly refers to Gustavo with tears in her eyes — came to the house, the home was filled with joy.

“They called him ´Gerber baby’ (a reference to a brand of a popular baby food) because he was so pretty. Everybody in the house and in the neighborhood wanted to carry him, spoil him,” his mother said.

Those closest to the conductor affirm that when he turned 3 they noticed his love for music. His grandmother confesses that she and her husband, Honorio (who passed away in 2004), were not happy having another musician at home.

Gustavo’s father had also caused them several headaches with his popular band, Sucre y Gaitas, and with his trombone classes.

“One time my husband told me, 'Can you imagine if our grandson is a violinist, who will be able to stand all the noise in the house?’ ” his grandmother remembered.

His grandfather had it right. Gustavo Dudamel became a violinist and at age 13 became the youngest director in Venezuela, taking over the direction of the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra.

His grandmother wanted to stop his musical career and put him in karate and swimming classes, but she could not stop the drive of the stubborn youngster, who always told her, “I want to be like dad: a musician.”

One day she gave in and began Gustavo’s musical formation at age 6.

“To avoid being taken out of musical classes, he became an excellent student. He memorized everything in a few hours. He still is like that with scores -- just a glance and he’s ready for a concert,” said his grandmother.

Lifelong friend Daniel Vielma said that Dudamel is calm but with a nice dark sense of humor.

“He was very reserved, but he loved to imitate his music teachers behind their back. That was something that wasn’t very funny for them,”  Vielma said.

Dudamel’s father explains that he sees his own musical history in his son:

“He has achieved everything I always dreamed as a musician. He is Na Guara (a popular expression in Barquisimeto that refers to exciting people or situations). He has become a family pillar for us. I have learned a lot from my son, especially at a personal level. He knows he has the support of his family whether he’s successful or not. And we know that he will always be on our side, in good or bad times.
“I’m proud of my son.”

Photos: top, Gustavo at 7 during a Carnival Party in Barquisimeto, Venezuela, and, above, at age 16 with the Orquesta Infantil de Venezuela in the Teresa Carreño Theater. Credit: HOY/William Manosalvas/Orquesta Juvenil e Infantil de Venezuela

More photos from Hoy:


Gustavo shows his dancing skills at age 5 during a party at his family home in Barquisimeto.

Gustavo foto 1

Gustavo at 10 months in Barquisimeto, November 1981.