Dudamel Debuts in New York With a Bang

The Associated Press
Friday, November 30, 2007; 6:14 PM

NEW YORK -- It's not unusual for members of a New York audience to leave early, but they stood their ground at Lincoln Center. And stood and stood.

The audience gave 26-year-old conductor Gustavo Dudamel a standing ovation for five minutes Thursday night after the dimple-faced whiz kid with a radiant smile and an emphatic baton finished his New York Philharmonic debut.

The son of a salsa player and a music teacher from the Venezuelan city Barquisimeto, Dudamel shot to the top of the classical world last spring when he was named music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, effective September 2009.

He made his Carnegie Hall debut two weeks ago, conducting the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, an ensemble he has led since he was 18 as part of Venezuela's "El Sistema" education program. The state-funded effort has brought classical instrumental training to tens of thousands of youngsters in Venezuela's barrios.

Other debuts are planned, including with the Metropolitan Opera, where Dudamel will conduct Donizetti's "L'Elisir d'Amore" in the 2010-11 season.

On Thursday, Dudamel led the nation's oldest orchestra in a varied program _ Mexican composer Carlos Chavez's "Sinfonia India," Dvorak's Violin Concerto with soloist Gil Shaham, and Prokofiev's Fifth Symphony. The program provided the opportunity to showcase Dudamel's conducting versatility.

Chavez's energetic 1935 work is based on indigenous Mexican themes and rhythms that often clash with each other, moving through pensive moments as it builds to a joyous frenzied ending. Dudamel danced his way through the score, his long black curly hair bobbed over his collar as he bounced on the podium.

The dancing turned into a tango in the Dvorak, a lilting 19th century delight that's filled with Eastern European folk melodies. As Dudamel conducted and Shaham played the lyrical solo with his trademark sweetness, the violinist strolled so close to the podium that his bow almost got entangled with Dudamel's baton.

After intermission, Dudamel ditched the score and conducted the mood-shifting Prokofiev by memory. First performed in Moscow in January 1945, the complex four-movement symphony opens with a soft theme accompanied by dissonant harmonies that ratchet up the tension. With his sweeping gestures, Dudamel cranked up the drama, leading to a grand ending. He was emphatic in the edgy second movement, a jocular romp in which melodies are tossed around from instrument to instrument, and sensitive in the Romeo-and-Juliet-like third movement.

In the fourth movement, Dudamel kept dancing, swooping down and then leaping as the work came to a crashing conclusion. The audience responded with its long ovation, and shouts of bravo, eliciting five curtain calls.

Unlike the young musicians of Dudamel's Simon Bolivar Orchestra at Carnegie, the Philharmonic musicians did not lift up their instruments to acknowledge the sell-out crowd's reception. But Dudamel made his way through the orchestra, hugging members of every section.


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