After the wildly-polystylistic Bienvenido Gustavo! event at Hollywood Bowl Oct. 3, the eyes and ears of the music world remained fastened upon Los Angeles Thursday night with an Inaugural Gala Concert for Gustavo Dudamel. The contrast couldn’t have been more stark.
The outdoors populism of the Bowl event gave way to indoor tuxedos and gowns at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Instead of every idiom under the sun, this program contained nothing but symphonic music on a large scale: John Adams’ “City Noir” (a world premiere) and Mahler’s Symphony No. 1. Yet the response was the same — another eruption of near-pandemonium over the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s new, dynamic, undeniably skilled, 28-year-old Venezuelan music director.
Meanwhile, the marketing of Dudamel accelerated into overdrive. The concert was carried live on radio and shown on a big screen to about 3,000 people on the Music Center Plaza (having realized that they have a rock star on their hands, this time the Phil distributed tickets to the broadcast via lottery). PBS will show it on Great Performances Oct. 21; Deutsche Grammophon releases a DVD of the concert Nov. 23, and a download of the Mahler on iTunes Oct. 20.
Was all of this presumption of a Great Performance justified?
Certainly the premiere of any major new Adams piece commands headlines, and “City Noir” added a home-field aspect since it was meant to evoke the noir atmosphere of Hollywood films of the late 1940s and ’50s.
Scored for a gigantic, percussion-loaded orchestra, the 34-minute “City Noir” is supposed to be the final section of a California trilogy that includes “El Dorado” and “The Dharma At Big Sur,” but it doesn’t resemble either one of them. Bustling, densely packed outbursts of energy — sometimes driven by a jazzy trap drum kit — alternate with dreamy, eerie, or shimmering string soundscapes topped by alto saxophone and Billy Butterfield-like trumpet. The noisy coda seemed tailor-made for Dudamel, who likes slam-bang finishes.
While the inclusion of Adams signaled Dudamel’s willingness to explore the new, the Mahler was another demonstration of his ability to electrify the old — and get any seasoned, skeptical orchestra to follow his lead.
Mahler was just about the same age as Dudamel when he wrote his First Symphony, and you could count on the young conductor to make the young composer’s extroverted sections explode. Yet in a sign of rapidly-developing maturity, Dudamel could also get the lyrical music to flow and project the right sense of mystery in the opening and in later transitional passages. Only the second movement disappointed; Dudamel’s eccentric tempo changes capsized its balance, though the rhythm was good when he left things alone.
Hopefully, Dudamel will continue to mature without losing his youthful pizzazz — and only then can we start making the Bernstein comparisons.