If the unprecedented level of hype and the equally unheard-of format for Gustavo Dudamel’s debut as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic is any indication of the future, the music world may never be the same. Yes, the music world — not just the classical ghetto.
The 28-year-old Caracas, Venezuela, Flash launched his first season here with a free concert at the Hollywood Bowl Saturday that tried to do the impossible — uniting not only all sectors of the community but also as many different kinds of music as the organizers could cram into a five-hour marathon. No single concert will save the world, yet astonishingly, a vision of what is possible materialized before our eyes and ears.
Tickets for this lollapalooza vanished within an hour of availability on Aug. 1, and soon, online scalpers offered them up for $30-$999. Target Stores picked up the tab for the event. Deutsche Grammophon released a CD sampler of Dudamel’s recordings, “Discoveries,” to coincide with the concert, and offered two free downloads to all who came.
Those who managed to get in received an unbelievable value for their trouble.
The first half of the concert resembled a compressed version of the Playboy Jazz Festival –from the comprehensively diverse makeup of the music and crowd to the relaxed party-in-the-sun ambience.
The opening abstract virtuosity of Cuban piano whiz Alfredo Rodriguez gave way to Andrae Crouch’s stomping gospel vamps and fervent evangelizing. The accomplished musicians of the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts Jazz Band were lifted to a new level by Herbie Hancock in “One Finger Snap” and “Maiden Voyage” as he soloed and comped in classic Blue Note-period fashion. With Los Cenzontles, “bluesman” Taj Mahal sang in Spanish to a reggae beat, and Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo added some rock ‘n’ roll.
Yet the most moving portion of this salad bowl of styles was the endearing singing and playing of Stevie Wonder’s “Visions,” “Higher Ground” and “I Wish” by the children and teens of the Silverlake Conservatory Ensemble, firmly anchored on bass by its founder, Flea, from Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Finally, in staring down a ton of sky-high expectations, Dudamel did a wise thing. He conducted Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with a serious sense of purpose –no tricks, no eccentric tempos or distracting mannerisms, just a weighty standard rendition that patiently worked its way toward an exultant finale. Though the philharmonic, four vocal soloists and choruses were amped to larger-than-life proportions, Beethoven’s Ninth was allowed to speak for itself as it wrapped up a day of wild stylistic swerves with its message of universal brotherhood. Only afterward did Dudamel the rock star loosen the reins to have some fun, reprising the last six minutes of the symphony to the deafening crackle of fireworks.
The kid’s gonna be all right.