Mendotti Guino

The leading young conductor of his generation, Gustavo Dudamel, was born in 1981 and is a product of el sistema, the National System of Youth and Children’s Orchestras of Venezuela, ­ a music education program that has reached hundreds of thousands of youngsters, many from poor backgrounds. Trained as a violinist, he became conductor of its flagship orchestra, the Simon Bolivar, as a teen-ager.

At 23, he was quickly noticed by leading maestros and given key guest conducting opportunities at major orchestras, after winning a conductor’s competition.  Gustavo quickly became a star of the classical music world.  A recording contract by Deutsche Grammophon followed and in 2007-2008, he became principal conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra in Sweden.  As for the 2009-2010 season?  In a stunning decision, the Los Angeles Philharmonic appointed the young maestro to succeed Esa-Pekka Salonen as its music director.


The Simón Bolívar Youth Symphony Orchestra,

 founded in 1975 by José Antonio Abreu,

 has continuously aimed to create new opportunities for Musical Excellence

 in Venezuela for the past 30 years.

The State Foundation for the Venezuelan System of Youth and Child Orchestras {FESNOJIV} is comprised of over 200 young musicians

 between the ages of sixteen and twenty,

 all products of a system of equal social, musical and educational importance

in Venezuela.



It was last November when Gustavo Dudamel walked on stage at Carnegie Hall to conduct the first of two programs with the Simón Bolívar Youth Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela. With his unkempt mane of curly hair and slight build, he looked a little ashen-faced and shy.


This was his first appearance in New York.  Few musicians have ever faced such pressure.  At 26, this young Venezuelan is one of the most talked-about performers in classical music.  “The most astonishingly gifted conductor I have ever come across,” were the words of Simon Rattle.


But once this young artist took the podium and began Berlioz’s Roman Carnival, he radiated excitement.  So for those in the audience, this concert became a special case.

Gustavo Dudamel is a passionate and intuitive musician. Every phrase of whatever he is conducting has an expressive idea behind it, a compelling character.


In Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, the young players were joined by a master soloist, Emanuel Ax. For a youth orchestra trying to make an impression on tour, this concerto is not an ideal choice. Chopin was rather hapless at orchestration. In whole stretches the orchestra has little to do but prolong sustained harmonies that back up the continually inventive piano part.


In the long orchestral exposition, Mr. Dudamel and his players really tried to make something happen. They projected the main theme with urgency, taking every opportunity to highlight an inner voice or a restless bass line. In the genial second theme, the playing was oddly cool, almost metronomic. But there was reason to the approach. Later, when Mr. Ax took over that theme, the lyrical freedom he introduced was all the more affecting for what had come before.


Emanuel Ax, playing with his customary refinement and integrity, seemed inspired by these young players. In the mazurkalike finale, he and the orchestra might have been dance partners.


Then came an exuberantly Romantic account of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. For all the sheer excitement, this was not a particularly distinctive or probing interpretation. Again, Mr. Dudamel came across as an instinctive rather than an analytic musician with thrilling compensations: slicing attacks on fortissimo chords; ominous crescendos that swelled to the breaking point.


And with a frenzied fiesta – the concert ended!  The players donned jackets based on the Venezuelan flag and played a selection of Latin American works where the players leapt off their seats, shouted and shimmied. Cellists twirled their instruments as if they were spinning their dates during the dance at the gym.


Who knows?  For all his charisma, maybe Dudamel will be able to get the players of the Los Angeles Philharmonic to also leap off their seats and dance.

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