Gustavo Dudamel Takes Over Baton At L.A. Philharmonic
Gustavo Dudamel Getty Images

Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel became music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic on Wednesday at the age of 28, deploying digital tools to draw a younger and less elite audience to classical music.

Before a free inaugural concert for 18,000 on Saturday, Dudamel held the first rehearsal with what is locally known as the LA Phil, considered one of the best in the world and much admired for snatching the Venezuelan sensation out from under the noses of other U.S. orchestras.

Dudamel told the throng of journalists from around the world that he relished that first movement of his baton before his new orchestra.

"The significance of this first note in my life is so special," he said. "I think we will have a beautiful journey ... the most important thing is to enjoy."

With talent, charisma and trademark curly locks, Dudamel has taken the rarefied world of classical music by storm, drawing comparisons with conducting legends like Leonard Bernstein. In a city that is half Hispanic, the South American's arrival at the pinnacle of Los Angeles culture is a source of pride.

He is the most famous product of "El Sistema," Venezuela's renowned network of music schools that has given instruments and instruction to hundreds of thousands of children. At 18, he was named director of Venezuela's national youth orchestra.

Even before his new job started on Wednesday, Dudamel began replicating El Sistema in Los Angeles and has set up the first of three youth orchestras with children from underprivileged areas. The first YOLA will perform on Saturday at the Hollywood Bowl, before the LA Philharmonic takes the stage.

LA Phil President Deborah Borda said Dudamel would have an array of digital media to take the Philharmonic to more people, both in Los Angeles and abroad.

Saturday's "community concert" will be the first live performance webcast from the Hollywood Bowl. The gala inaugural at Walt Disney Concert Hall on October 8 will also be simulcast on big screens outside.

The LA Phil launched a microsite for Dudamel (http://www.laphil.com/gustavo), with an online game called Bravo Gustavo that simulates the conducting experience. The iPhone application adapts the mobile device into a conducting baton, allowing users to speed up or slow down the tempo and the duration of notes, like a real conductor.

Despite expectations that Dudamel will wield enormous influence in the future of classical music, the conductor said there were "many captains inside this ship."

He tried his best to argue he was not a "wunderkind" as he is often portrayed.

"I don't think that I am a prodigy or genius because I have to study a lot," he said. "Wunderkind? No."

(Editing by Peter Cooney)

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