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Dudamel is back: That was quick

May 7, 2010 |  4:40 pm

Dud in b&W Thursday night, Gustavo Dudamel was sidelined when he pulled a neck muscle while conducting Dvorák’s Cello Concerto. He had to be relieved by the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s associate conductor, Lionel Bringuier, in Tchaikovsky’s “Pathetique” Symphony, leaving uncertain the fate of not just Dudamel’s two remaining concerts in Walt Disney Concert Hall but also the two-week national tour that begins Monday.

Then, just as suddenly as he was gone, Dudamel was back Friday morning for the matinee repeat of the same program. He exhibited a full range of motion – and emotion. His conducting of the “Pathetique,” on Tchaikovsky's 170th birthday, was not only engaged but hyper-engaged. It was surely his greatest performance of the season.

I’m sorry to break the news, ye orchestras of America. But the “Eat-Your-Heart-Out” tour, as Dudamel devotees here have taken to calling it, is back on track and no doubt unstoppable.

If Dudamel was in pain, he didn’t show it. During the big orchestral section in the Dvorák, where he is said to have felt something frightening happen to him, he seemed to hold back a little and flashed a small, private smile, but you can’t place too much significance on that.

His “Pathetique,” though, was more like a barely contained explosion. He first dug deep, weighing every note in the opening as if it were a precious substance. Perhaps what he felt in his neck Thursday is what he put in the first movement development section – sudden, uncontrollable pain, the world thrown asunder. The second movement, in a lilting 5/4 time, was a crooked waltz made straight, gallant and inspirational. The third movement blew the roof off. In the last, he dug deep in search of grace through suffering.

The orchestra played with the intensity it musters for special occasions. A composer only turns 170 once. But a wounded conductor, recovered overnight and ready to storm America, is also a special occasion.

-- Mark Swed

Photo: Gustavo Dudamel. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times