Thursday, April 5, 2012


What makes a kid want to be a conductor? Music? Sure, the power of music to transport you anywhere, wherever you want to go.

I think it's a Be-a-King passion, and it's not the same as wanting to be a rock star, or a performer. I suspect the big dream, the passion for music. is similar to what drew me to dance. I wanted to ride the wave.

Gustavo Dudamel, 31, has been firing up music ever since he was a wee little kid. Today he's the conductor for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela.

"Dudamel explodes out of his seat, stands on the tips of his toes, jabs the air violently with his conductor’s baton," says Chris Lee, music editor for Newsweek, describing a rehearsal of Mahler's Eighth Symphony. (I've got to confess, I'm a Mahler nut! --one of my biggest triumphs was dancing Mahler's Fifth at Lincoln Center.)

The Eighth Symphony is a huge undertaking, one of the largest-scale works in the classical concert repertoire. Dudamel refers to his Mahler Project as "my crazy dream." He scolded the choir of 800 singers, “We have a phrase in Venezuela: ‘You killed the tiger and now you’re afraid to take the skin. This is happening here. You have to take the skin! Be more in the moment!”

Conductors are special men. I met Leonard Bernstein -- he was accessible, friendly and fatherly about my using his "Trouble in Tahiti" opera for a ballet, though he said, "I don't think it'll work, but give it a try."

When I was dancing as a soloist with symphony orchestras, I met many conductors -- none were average/ ordinary -- all were tough, straight-forward, sharp-minded. I think it takes a powerful sense of "I know better than anybody else" to be a conductor.

Gustavo Dudamel, in Caracas now, is conducting the Eighth and other massive works. His fans calls call him “The Dude.” Though he's small in stature, he's becoming a towering figure in symphonic music. Corkscrew curls, an intensely ecstatic podium presence, conducting his own interpretations of beloved orchestral works, this guy is bridging the generation gap between older music lovers and young new listeners.

“Fame has two sides for me,” Gustavo Dudamel says. “One is when fame is an inspiration for other people. The other is when fame is an inspiration for you. What that means? In the second case, it becomes an ego thing. ‘I’m the best and everybody knows me.’ In the first, you see the children calling you, and your image is an inspiration for them to accomplish things. For me, that’s amazing. You feel like things are going the right way. ”

Asked about being "The Dude," he said, “I’m coming from a Latin culture where everything is so energetic,” he says. “I cannot avoid that. It’s in my blood.”

Yes, Gustavo Dudamel is a name to know. His recordings are something to listen to. Why? Because music -- classical music, all music -- is the top of the mountain, the zenith, the most astounding gift that we've been given.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting and informative blog today Em! I enjoyed reading all about this new conductor named Dude. I will have to keep my ears opened to catch him on PBS TV someday and see him in action! Thanks.... kam

Unknown said...

I know so little Ms. EM, I do know if you say Gustavo Dudamel has 'the magic' then he has 'the magic'
* * *
Much love to you and your John Cullum and FAMILY (JD are ye there?) HAPPY EASTER WEEKEND my friends!

Maureen Jacobs said...

Love to see the arts represented in a positive way. Hopefully he will inspire others. I know he inspires me.

Trouble is that most children do not experience enough culture. I think that the more you expose them to various cultures, the more tolerant and accepting they become.

Tolerance and appreciation and even fulfillment can lead them towards a more rewarding life.


Hugs to you and JC

Anonymous said...

Great insightful Blog on music and the conductor. Love and Hugs, H.

Ameer S. Washington said...

Yes conductors are interesting folks. Most often their portrayed as cold and heartless, except on performance days. Wait that's ballet instructors. Maybe both. Seriously though, I think that ego is necessary because often the performance is so big, so long with regard to the necessity of human effort. It's not like shooting a movie where it's done in so many different parts on different days. The performance is tonight, you've only got tonight to get it right. A movie you've got 7 or 8 takes and a few purposeful bloopers before the director starts to get antsy.

I think it also goes back the whole artist thing, and most artists being perfectionists and expecting everyone around them to be as well. But I had the pleasure to see a conductor during rehearsals and they're not really bad at all. Just folk who pay a lot of attention to detail, and doesn't everyone have ego anyway. "The Dude" seems cool, eccentric, and happy to be doing what he loves.