Dudamel Abides

April 17, 2010 § Leave a comment

On Friday, April 16th, I had the privilege of joining the MIT Symphony Orchestra for an open rehearsal led by Gustavo Dudamel. Dudamel came to MIT to accept the 2010 Eugene McDermott Award. The MIT orchestra, bolstered by a handful of local music students as well as members of the Longwood Symphony, played Mozart’s Symphony no. 38 “Prague” and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio espagnol.

Dudamel, having flown in only a few hours before, arrived in good spirits and showed from the beginning to the end why he is classical music’s best hope. A bassist seated next to me commented after the final ovation, “It’s amazing that he made this orchestra sound so good by conducting so little.” It’s true. He gave very few beats, but demanded very specific sound, articulation, and dynamics from each section. Despite his thick Venezuelan accent and imperfect English, he embodied on the podium every demand he made, communicating very effectively with the orchestra. His conducting, though sparse, was authoritative and energetic, focused on expression rather than timing.

Dudamel’s charisma is immense and his enthusiasm is infectious. His instincts are incredible and his feeling for the music is unparalleled. But it’s also clear that he is the product of tremendous schooling, El Sistema, perhaps the pinnacle of music education. Dudamel rattled off melodies in solfège (with movable do), despite not having a score at his podium.

Having witnessed firsthand the man many hope will save classical music for the future, I believe that he can do it. Musicians and orchestras everywhere would do well to pay attention to what’s happening in Los Angeles and in Venezuela.


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