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Dudamel and His LA Phil Go to the Movies

By Donna Perlmutter
Published: Tuesday, January 11, 2011, at 01:16PM
Dudamel Conducts the LA Phil Courtesy LA Phil

What a coup it was to catch Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic in two places, practically at once!

First, at Disney Hall itself, for the opening concert of a tour program to be played soon in European capitals. And two days later, repeated for a live movie-cast at a Regal Cinema Theatre near you.

Call it the age we’re living in. Nothing goes unrecorded, whether as an impromptu Youtube video or, in this case, a deluxe 14-camera extravaganza that captured our starry resident maestro in all his irresistible appeal, surrounded by his happy band of virtuosos.

Yes, in 450 movie houses throughout the U.S. and Canada, folks had instant-play access not only to the concert itself but interview snippets with the ever-ingratiating 29-year-old podium blockbuster – not to mention backstage goings-on, rehearsal footage and all manner of animated interplay.

The package culled pre-recorded material from Dudamel talking to the camera about the program – Americana works by Leonard Bernstein and John Adams, and the Beethoven 7th Symphony. Nothing high-falutin,’ as you can imagine, but penetrating and heart-felt chat because, after all, this is the conductor who, by his very authenticity, invites “the people,” and does not frighten them. And we’re talking about those who might never know of Beethoven: the non-elites, the under-served, but most of all, their children.

Think Lenny’s “Young People’s Concerts,” translated from cultivated Bostonian English into simple, Spanish-accented words and spoken by the guy with the black curly mop and big dimples -- iconic already.

“Is there anyone cuter?” a wag in the audience murmured. In fact, Dudamel’s charm, ease, spontaneity, warmth all go to make him utterly accessible – yes, indeed, he trumps assorted attempts by symphony orchestras to popularize their wares through any other human face.

Who knows? We might even see those who throng to “Tron” shoving their way into a movie house to witness something as unknown as Adams’ “Slonimsky’s Earbox,” a whizbang thing of brilliant colorations and contours that cannot fail to catch you up in its vitality and surprise and dancey-ness.

And maybe the same cannot be said about Bernstein’s “Jeremiah” Symphony, but at least the already initiated could savor this composer’s abiding love of his kindred spirit Copland, whose plaintive chords of wide open tenderness were treated in this piece with heavy-hearted solemnity, then spunky action, then Hebraic lamentation, courtesy of mezzo soprano Kelley O’Connor, she of the dark, single-hued voice.

As for the sure-fire Beethoven, called by Wagner “the apotheosis of the dance,” there were no gambles here. Rhythmic heat naturally radiates from Dudamel and it ignites his players. But playing the four movements without a break made for an especially exciting performance.

If, however, one is looking for concert hall sonic clarity (not what sounded like the beef of four orchestras) and for an artistically savvy visual complement, the movie house producers have a way to go. To be sure, that infernal, knee-jerk rolling of close-up cameras to each section entrance was in operation – so that you got to see, in detail, the checkered temples of a bassoonist’s glasses, and the bass clarinetist’s blownout cheeks and the dangle of every earring.

True, we did get the benefits of multiple cameras panning from Dudamel in close-up, to side angles, wide views of the orchestra, and even fadeouts.

But I ask you, can music really make its maximum impact with all these visual diversions? And, oh, while we appreciate that Disney Hall is a showplace and a curiosity for audiences everywhere, it’s hardly supposed to have the supporting role in this movie. So just when Dudamel and the band are blazing through Beethoven’s propulsively dramatic heights do we really need to have our eyes yanked away and dragged up to the ceiling’s intricate complex of wood rafters?

Please, God, grant these producers/directors a sensibility for the ventures to come. They have a star. Let them stick with him. And lose the too-artificial and overdone emcee Vanessa Williams.

Donna Perlmutter is an award-winning critic, journalist and author. Formerly the chief music/dance critic for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, she contributes to the Los Angeles Times and other publications.

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