Disagree with his musical decisions, but there’s no denying that Gustavo Dudamel has power. His command over his musicians and audience-members alike is nothing short of striking. Monday night, as part of the Washington Performing Arts Society’s Orchestra Series, Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, on the tail of his inaugural season, performed Bernstein’s Symphony No. 2 for Piano and Orchestra, “The Age of Anxiety,” and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6, “Pathétique,” to a sold-out hall. Even for the amount of press and rock star fame that he has already garnered at just 29 years old, not an inch of it is undeserved. Dudamel is a brilliant conductor.
The program’s first half was shared with French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, and for two foreign-born musicians (Dudamel is Venezuelan), they certainly know how to play American music. From the opening clarinet duet, which Dudamel crafted simply and beautifully, the musicians embarked on a faith journey that moved between jazz, the loftiest Romanticism, and the most dissonant sounds of 20th-century anxiety. Bernstein’s identity-searching work is based on W. H. Auden’s poem “The Age of Anxiety,” which follows four strangers who embark on an alcohol-induced, and thus ultimately condemned, search to discover faith and meaning. Bernstein set it to music in 1949 in what is part symphony, part descriptive tone poem, and part piano concerto. Despite his birthplace, Thibaudet is no stranger to American music, performing Gershwin and straight-ahead jazz often, and Bernstein is of course a natural extension of that. The music comes easily to Thibaudet and was without pretense; it was simple, it was jazzy and rhythmic, it was full of duress, and it was always of that “none-other-than” American sound.
Anne Midgette, Gustavo Dudamel embraces music, and the orchestra follows (Washington Post, May 19)
Tim Smith, Gustavo Dudamel, Los Angeles Philharmonic make notable impact in DC concert (Baltimore Sun, May 18)
John von Rhein, 'Dudamania' hits Chicago. But is all the hype over Los Angeles' new maestro justified? (Chicago Tribune, May 16)
Andrew Patner, Dudamel, L.A. Philharmonic's relationship growing (Chicago Sun-Times, May 16)
Lawrence A. Johnson, Dudamel, Los Angeles Philharmonic deliver thrilling performance in Chicago (The Classical Review, May 15)
Richard Nilsen, LA Phil, Dudamel thrill Phoenix (Arizona Republic, May 13)
Joshua Kosman, Gustavo Dudamel bewilders (San Francisco Chronicle, May 12)
Richard Scheinin, Dudamel and the L.A. Philharmonic deliver a dynamic double bill in Davies Hall (San Jose Mercury-News, May 11)
The sheer amount of different colors and sounds Dudamel elicited from his musicians in the Tchaikovsky was fresh for such a common work. Coupled with the raw energy that Dudamel exudes and which follows from his orchestra, the Tchaikovsky was a force of nature that left the audience, now firmly within Dudamel’s clutches, pin-droppingly silent for a good minute or so following the work’s concluding notes.
Dudamel brings an uncanny maturity to his craft, along with a youthful vigor that electrifies audiences. What is truly wonderful about him is that, despite his energy and curls and stardom, he does not exemplify the center-stage conductor persona. In fact, he is quite self-effacing on stage. No gesture was disproportionate to the sound he received in return, and no motion was distracting from the music itself. When the Tchaikovsky came to a close, he barely even acknowledged the audience. Dudamel and Thibaudet are well matched in this regard, but for such a young musician as Dudamel, it is refreshing to see that stardom is just a result, or maybe even a consequence, of doing what he loves.
Next, WPAS will present the Philadelphia Orchestra (May 26, 7:30 pm), with Charles Dutoit on the podium and pianist Nikolai Lugansky as guest soloist, in the Music Center at Strathmore.