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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2016 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Concert Review: The Dude Takes Carnegie Hall

Venezuela meets Vienna in a diverse orchestral program.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
At 29 years of age, conductor Gustavo Dudamel is the bright hope of Western music. His infectious enthusiasm and fearless choices of repertory have ignited renewed international interest in the arts. On Saturday night, the Venezuelan maestro brought his unique perspective to Carnegie Hall, to make music with the much more tradition-bound, mostly male Vienna Philharmonic.
Gustavo Dudamel. Photo © Chris Christodoulous
The result was electric.

At first glance, Mr. Dudamel's programming choices were puzzling:
  • An obscure opera overture by Rossini. 
  • A symphonic triptych from Cuban composer Julián Orbón. 
  • One of Leonard Bernstein's orchestral oddities from 1980. 
  • To close, two of Ravel's "greatest hits." 
With its emphasis on the 20th century, the program forced the orchestra to stretch itself and think outside the box, and this was all to the good.


The Rossini overture served as the sprightly curtain-lifter, preparing the audience for the Three Symphonic Versions by Orbón. These pieces, dating from 1954, combined neo-classical Western ideas with medieval church polyphony and driving Latin rhythms. It sounded like Vaughan Williams or Gustav Holst sending back musical postcards from some imaginary tropical resort.

The biggest challenge for the musicians was Bernstein's Divertimento, a boisterous set of salutes to the composer's hometown of Boston, Massachusetts. Bernstein pulled out the parts of the kitchen sink for this piece and threw them into the mix. One short movement quotes the oboe obbligato of the Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. Another is an Aaron Copland-esque movement titled "Turkey Trot." The heavy brass were featured in atmospheric noir piece simply labeled "Blues." Throughout, the orchestra rose to the occasion and demonstrated its quality, playing unfamiliar music with thorough, professional skill.

The Pavane pour un infante défunte continued the symphonic arc of the program, serving as a slow movement in contrast to the Bernstein work. The piece also showcased the trademark horn tone of the Vienna Philharmonic, with their unique instruments squarely to the fore. Again, Mr. Dudamel displayed precise control over his forces, regulating the dynamic level and producing a beautiful blend of wind,strings and brass. The Bolero brought the evening to a proper climax. Mr. Dudamel's intimate relationship with this orchestra was evident, as they followed his cryptic stick movements and hand gestures to conjure a tower of sound.

After a thunderous ovation, Mr. Dudamel came back with his index finger raised to indicate "one more." He led the superb Vienna strings in music closer to their hearts: the all-plucked Pizzicato Polka by Johann Strauss.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.