Los Angeles Philharmonic; More Dud than Dude
San Francisco and Los Angeles are very competitive cities. When the Los Angeles Dodgers are in town to play the Giants, the chant of ‘Beat LA’ reverberate all game throughout Pacific Bell Park.
But there were no “beat LA” chants when the Los Angeles Philharmonic visited Davies Hall in San Francisco for two concerts early in November. They weren’t necessary; the LA Phil was too busy beating itself.
Not that the LA Phil are bad musicians; on the contrary there are many splendid first rank players in this group. The problem is Gustavo Dudamel—the over-energized, over-hyped music director of the LA Phil who is proving to audiences throughout the world that having a compelling personal story and a well-oiled publicity machine behind you doesn’t translate into compelling music.
The performance of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony I attended was one of the worst in memory.
Dudamel’s Mahler is Mahler on steroids. Everything was pumped up and aggressively bent out of shape. The distortions were mind boggling. This was especially true in the third movement Rondo burleske when Dudamel’s tempi were so fast that it sounded like the orchestra was on fast forward.
The fortissimos throughout the piece--but especially in the first movement--were screaming and screechy, and the colors far too bright and brassy—Dudamel imitating Hollywood. Only in the fourth movement, the great Adagio, did the young Gustavo achieve some harmony with Mahler’s true purpose and spirit but by then it was much too late and my headache much too severe.
Music is a business and Dudamel fills the seats, which is why he has become an in-demand conductor. I understand that but I wonder about the wisdom of this practice.
Glamour boy conductors are short run stuff and will not solve the longer run problem classical music faces in this country of developing an audience. The musical illiterates who buy tickets for Dudamel won’t be sticking around for long. The great fear is that by going for the short term buck orchestra managements will chase the serious people away and wind up a net loser in the process.
That a half-baked musician like Dudamel can rise through the ranks as fast as he has is prima facie evidence of the serious crisis of culture we have in this country. Not surprising he wound up in Los Angeles.