a review of cool new music
by Jeff Pinzino
I’ve been away at a conference this week, without a chance to listen to new music. Next week will be a double issue. In the meantime, here’s a review of a concert that you ought to be aware of.
Dudamel's Winning Premiere
In an age when a “classical event” feels like an oxymoron, the national simulcast and webcast of opening night at the Los Angeles Philharmonic will be the talk of the music world for a long time to come. Gustavo Dudamel, a 28-year old Venezuelan, took the baton of one of the top North American orchestras, and powerfully so. People are nuts about Dudamel – not just the musical elite, but a lot of ordinary Angelinos, many who are paying attention to classical music for the first time. His story is inspirational; his music even moreso.
It's hard to see a year go by without another major study being done tolling the decline of classical music. Audiences are graying and shrinking, and 21st century audiences have less patience for music of the 18th and 19th. In the last few years these studies started grudgingly to include an asterisk:
Dudamel has spent more than half of his life on the podium. He toured internationally as conductor of the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, where he made an impression on the folks at the L.A. Philharmonic. From the sound of it, he makes an impression on everybody. Exuberant, flamboyant, engaging - it's emblematic that he made his major pre-season appearance with the "Ode to Joy" from Beethoven's Ninth.
The program for opening night juxtaposed novelty and tradition, the adventurous and the familiar. "City Noir" is a symphony commissioned from John Adams, one of
The orchestra attacked the
A trumpet solo at midpoint provided the piece’s only melodic handle, and it disappeared almost as soon as it appeared, replaced by violent lurches in the low brass. A saxophone picked through a wreck of notes. The arrival of bongos ultimately carried the piece to a dramatic climax, leaving a profound dread to hover in the silent air.
For a populist conductor, it's an odd introduction, although one that Dudamel managed to sell with tremendous energy and athleticism. He conveyed vividly this portrait of a dark, senseless city, a heightened dramatization of a place synonymous with drama. Despite enthusiastic applause, this isn't the kind of piece that's going to win over curious new listeners to contemporary music. Any commission involves risk, and this is an atypical entry for
Dudamel's Mahler was exquisite. The pianissimo, lento opening of the first movement is a difficult one to conduct, and Dudamel showed above all a patience with the music that carried through the entire piece. He turned over each note with attentiveness, an expectation that there might be surprises hiding even under these familiar passages.
His approach to the second movement was romantic in the
Long silences between movements served as palate-cleansers, giving the listener a chance to savor the finish of the prior emotion and prepare for the next one. Dudamel brought a dose of levity to the moodier third movement. His direction was measured and serious, but not too serious. The final movement broke with alarm, echoing the
As a conductor, Dudamel shows way more emotional range than you’d expect from a 28-year-old, and yet it’s the energy and audacity of his youth that’s spellbinding. Performances like this ought to be inspiring audiences for years to come.
You can catch a TV broadcast of the full concert on PBS October 21.
To subscribe or unsubscribe, or just to say hi, send an e-mail to email@example.com.