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Dudamel and the LA Phil Blow the Roof

By Donna Perlmutter
Published: Thursday, October 06, 2011, at 04:05PM
Gustavo Dudamel Leads the LA Phil Mathew Imaging

Gustavo Dudamel performs at the Los Angeles Philharmonic Opening Night Gala at Walt Disney Concert Hall on Tuesday, September 27, 2011.

Hooray! They’re back. The men and women in black. Yes, those 100 stellar musicians who make up the Los Angeles Philharmonic have decamped to their distinctive, celebrated home, the Walt Disney Concert Hall, after airing their amplified wares the entire summer at Hollywood Bowl (where those infernal cameras so disturb our aural perspectives).

What a relief to get them indoors!

And what an ear-opener, as always, that the return brought. To suddenly hear, with awesome clarity, their virtuosic power must not be taken for granted. Yes, it was grand on Grand Avenue.

Just the sort of subscription opener that Gustavo Dudamel, now in his third season as the Phil’s music director, pulls off so flabbergastingly well.

Take his program lineup, for instance. With Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique” as the familiar centerpiece he gave the orchestra a gulp-worthy showcase and it responded with a stunner of a performance. (More on that later.)

But we’re learning all about the Dudamel musical sensibility and just by his choice of John Adams’ “Tromba lontana,” a quiet little four-minute murmur of distant brass, followed by another contemporary work, Esteban Benzecry’s extravagantly disquieting “Rituales Amerindios,” it’s clear that our podium-meister’s taste and temperament and talent coalesce around outsized drama.

So, yes, that’s an insight into his magnetism. Dudamel thrives on big, viscerally exciting music – and he infects his orchestra with the same blood-boiling passion. It all came alive with the Argentine composer’s work, a tryptich inspired by pre-Columbian cultures – Aztec, Mayan, Incan – that explodes in frightfully mysterious, mythic majesty and sometimes suggests a kind of ancient impressionism.

Its orchestral effects are dazzling and ingeniously manipulated. Glassy glissandos, jutting brass, chugging rhythms that seem unstoppable. And the band played with utter precision, clarified as strands of perfect sound and choirs of single impulse.

I can only guess that when composer Benzecry came to the stage for his standing o. with the whole gang, he said to himself, “This was an unimaginable performance. I might never hear its like again.”

But so was the Berlioz a standout. And what Dudamel and Co. seized on -- the composer’s manic, halucinatory state -- brought us into that world. With some conductors this music is little more than quirky business dressed in the French frills of romanticism. Here, it unfolded with controlled surfaces but rocked and roiled with searingly demonic craziness underneath. In the process each orchestral section stepped up to splendid, outsized prominence. At times, I thought that the whole hall would come apart. Only near the end, during the witches’ sabbath, was there a little line-smudging – because the brass, which could use a meatier sound, seemed to be blaring out of balance.

Throughout the night, though, the knowledgable and appreciative audience never made a premature peep, but saved its roaring approval to the end.


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