Thursday night Gustavo Dudamel conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall. It was the last performance of his first season with the company. I attended his spectacular debut in Los Angeles last October.
The concert opened with Leonard Bernstein's Symphony No. 2 "The Age of Anxiety" composed between 1947 and 1949, revised in 1965. The pianist was Jean-Yves Thibaudet. This was followed by Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 7 in B minor, Op. 74, the "Pathétique" composed in 1893.
The performance was trilling. As a measure, the entire audience rose up clapping with excitement halfway through the Pathétique, something I have never seen in New York. The standing ovation following the performance was so prolonged that we were treated to a rare symphonic encore, a beautiful interlude for chamber orchestra and orchestra again by Bernstein.
The electricity was clear from the outset. The performance was sold out almost as soon as it was announced. The orchestra was huge, about 60 in the string section alone. Jean-Yves Thibaudet delivered a virtuoso performance, gliding easily through the complex rhythms and melodies of Bernstein's musical reflection of post-war America. Each note was clear, each passage precisely defined, all in perfect harmony with the orchestra. Dudamel's intimate rapport with both the orchestra and pianist was evident in his delicate balance of symphony and piano.
It is a joy to watch Dudamel in action, both in the lyrical and energetic passages. His performance is intense and balletic. He communicates intensity, excitement and precision. Dudamel conducts with his entire being -- he sways, he leaps, he rocks -- his curly black mop of hair flying. He is a consummate musician, conducting entirely from memory, without a score.
Dudamel's personal history is remarkable. He was born in small town in Venezuela, began playing the violin at age 10 and conducting by age 15. He is a product of El Sistema, the system for training young musicians created by Antonio Abreu. At 21 he was the principal conductor of the Orquestra Sinfonica Simon Bolivar, the National Youth Orchestra of Venezuela. In 2004 won the prestigious Gustav Mahler Prize as a conductor at age 23. He began his tenure as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in September 2009 with a free performance of Beethoven's Ninth at the Hollywood bowl, followed by his official debut in early October with Mahler's 1st Symphony and the world premier of John Adams' "City Noir," a tribute to Los Angeles of the 30s and 40s, in its way a companion piece to Bernstein's "The Age of Anxiety."
He spoke briefly at a reception after the concert. His remarks were simple and direct. To paraphrase, he said: "I love this music and I love this symphony. It has been both a very short and very long way from Barquisimeto to here. I thank my mentors; I thank you all and thank Deborah Borda for making this possible." Indeed we all should thank Deborah Borda, President and chief executive officer of the Los Angeles Philharmonic for her courage and insight that placed a 28-year old-musical genius as the head of one of the great orchestras. To listen to Gustavo Dudamel lead the Los Angeles Philharmonic is to hear music made new.