Mahler Is O.K., but Gustavo, He's Amazing
By DANIEL J. WAKIN
The New York Times
February 14, 2012
CARACAS, Venezuela - They played Mahler, but the people came
Gustavo Dudamel, the most celebrated product of this
country's extraordinary network of orchestras and teaching
centers, has returned to his homeland for the first time
with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which he took over as
music director in 2009.
Mr. Dudamel is leading a cycle of Mahler symphonies at the
helm of the Philharmonic and the SimA3n BolA-var Symphony
Orchestra, the crown jewel of the nation's musical education
program, called El Sistema.
The visit is not only a powerful sign of Mr. Dudamel's fast
rise as a conducting star but also of El Sistema's emergence
as a force in the world of classical music. With its panoply
of hundreds of youth orchestras and teaching centers, El
Sistema serves hundreds of thousands of young people, most
from poor rural families or blighted barrios. The movement
has captured the imagination of many musicians and movers in
the industry and has spread around the world.
It has also become one of the finest Venezuelan exports,
rivaled perhaps only by oil and beauty queens. And Mr.
Dudamel, 31, is its brightest light. "Rock star" has become
the most used description this week.
People began lining up at 4 a.m. late last month to buy $8
tickets, which quickly sold out for the Los Angeles
Philharmonic concerts. They were limited to four a person,
but scalpers were said to have scooped up many. Ethan
Bearman, a Philharmonic French horn player, recounted an
exchange he had heard of: "Oh, is this the line for the
Mahler tickets?" a man asked.
"No, this is the line for Gustavo," a woman replied.
Many music lovers and Sistema supporters see the visit as a
moment of inspiration for Venezuela's legions of music
students and a boost for culture lovers here. Mr. Dudamel,
in a brief interview before the performance of Mahler's
Symphony No. 4 on Monday evening, minimized his role.
"The fact that this amazing orchestra is coming here to give
to our children and to our youth and to our people their
music, their energy, is a dream come true for me," he said.
"How amazing is it to have one of the best orchestras here
with us, not only as a guest orchestra, because at the end
we have become one family."
The concerts are a concrete sign of how the Philharmonic,
with Mr. Dudamel at its helm, has become the most visible
symbol of El Sistema in the United States. The Philharmonic
supports several youth orchestras in Los Angeles, as well as
teacher training modeled on Sistema methods, and it brings
together people involved in such efforts around the world.
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