"Gustavo is the ultimate classical rock star," Quincy Jones exclaimed after witnessing Gustavo Dudamel's debut concert as the new music director with the Los Angeles Philharmonic on October 8th. Gustavo Dudamel is the musical phenom who first picked up the baton at age 11, as part of Venezuela's extensive program called El Sistema. In El Sistema, young people, many from disadvantaged backgrounds, receive support and music education. The very best get to play in the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, which Dudamel has led for the past ten years. When it comes to making music with this group of young players he proclaims, "Music changed our lives. Music is our life!" On their new recording, "Discoveries," Dudamel chose works that he says underscores the power of music to change the lives of young people.
From the European symphony tradition, Gustavo Dudamel chose music by Beethoven to represent the hope shared by all the young people with whom he's worked. The stormy first movement to Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 in c minor opens this collection of musical "Discoveries." This is probably the most recognizable piece of classical music ever written, yet Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra put their own stamp on this masterpiece. Beethoven's Fifth symphony is a journey from darkness to light. In the first movement, Dudamel emphasizes this idea through an aggressive tempo, dramatic pauses, and broad dynamic changes. Just as the composer did, this orchestra seizes fate by the throat.
The musical world really started to take notice of Gustavo Dudamel in 2004, when he won the inaugural Gustav Mahler conducting competition by conducting Mahler's Fifth Symphony. Dudamel says, "What everyone remembers about this work is the Adagietto. But for me the important thing is that movement's position within the work." The symphony begins with a funeral march. The second movement is filled with despair. The third movement becomes joyful and happy. Those emotions then grow into love in the Adagietto. The emotional maturity of these young musicians is quite impressive as they fully express the tenderness of this enchanting piece.
Modern Latin America is showcased in two works by Mexican composer Arturo Marquez. The Danzon No. 2 for Orchestra focuses on the accents rather than on the time signatures. As you listen, the tempo seems to vary, but it really doesn't. Precision is the key to pulling off this Cuban-style dance, and the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra is completely focused on the task at hand. Several solos are featured throughout this powerful dance music, including the opening exchange between oboe and clarinet--another testament to the hig- quality young performers that make up this amazing ensemble.
The last track on this recording is a performance being released for the first. It's a bold rendition of Shostakovich's "Festive Overture." The trumpet call at the beginning sets the pace for this energetic tour de force. What's most exciting is the lighting-fast tempo. How the wind instruments can possibly keep up is beyond me.
Gustavo Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra do indeed bring a new sense of vitality to their music-making which comes through in all its glory on this collection of, "Discoveries." Their sense of urgency and passion is unbelievably exciting. Dudamel dreams of bringing new audiences to classical music while not abandoning the fans that already exist. This new collection of classical "Discoveries," is one of the many ways in which he's already living that dream.