Rock Star L.A. Phil Maestro Gustavo Dudamel Scores First Film

One of the most highly regarded and popular figures in the classical world, Gustavo Dudamel is best known for his talents as a conductor. But in October, the music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic will unveil his maiden voyage as a film composer.

The Liberator,” which opens Oct. 3, spans the critical decades that shaped Simon Bolivar into the leader who rallied a revolution in South America in the early 19th century. It’s a Venezuelan/Spanish co-production and stars Venezuela native Edgar Ramirez (who also produced) as Bolivar.

It was Dudamel’s friendship with director Alberto Arvelo that involved him as a music adviser in the film’s early stages. Both men also hail from Venezuela and met in 2006 when the director made a documentary about the country’s music education program, El Sistema — Dudamel’s alma mater and the model for the L.A. Phil’s Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (Yola).

“Gustavo was helping me conceive the film’s musical style and helping me find references for the shooting,” Arvelo says. “He started suggesting melodies and brilliant ideas, (then) orchestrations … and suddenly he was already composing the music. I remember the moment, leaning on the piano at his home, when we both realized that Gustavo was already the composer.”

Dudamel began writing in summer 2012. Though a celebrity in the concert hall, he’s composed very little music since his amateur efforts as a teenager (“Let’s say they were not very deep or great pieces,” he laughs). He’s been fascinated with film music from his youth, though, and called on an experienced friend for advice.

“I invite John Williams to my house to play for him,” he says. “When he arrived I was so afraid, and very nervous. I started to play, (and he told) me, ‘Look, with this simple theme you can create a complete film score.’ It was amazing, because I started to write — in the beginning — in a very symphonic, modern way. But at the end, was not like that.”

Dudamel built the score around a simple motif inspired, partly, by Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man.” “This common guy became such a hero for us,” he says. “He put all his soul, even his money, for the freedom of people.” He scored the film’s battle scenes with a counterintuitive, introspective approach. “The battle of Boyaca, for example, is presented with a miserere a cappella,” Arvelo says.

Throughout the score, which was performed by the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra in Caracas in January 2013, Dudamel spotlights instruments indigenous to Latin America, including the cuatro and an arsenal of unique flutes made by their player, Pedro Eustache.

“(Pedro) recorded the same music like three times with different flutes,” says Dudamel. “He even played a flute he made of an ostrich egg. Insane wonderful.”

It’s somewhat unexpected that Dudamel, who conducts and champions modern concert music, composed such an emotionally sincere and accessible score. “At the end, it’s very simple,” he says. “It’s harmony, it’s three or four motifs happening all the time, and the rhythmical ethnic thing. Nothing else. Because the image is so charged (with) beauty, and everything else that comes, that if you put too much it becomes a wedding cake.”

More Music

  • Timbaland

    Hipgnosis Songs Acquires Timbaland Catalog

    The fast-rising Hipgnosis Songs Fund Limited continues its aggressive growth surge, acquiring a catalog from songwriter-producer-artist Timbaland that comprises 108 albums and songs. Timbaland is one of the most successful songwriter-producers in the hip-hop/R&B realm: The catalog includes hits by Justin Timberlake, Missy Elliott, Aaliyah, Jay-Z, Nelly Furtado, 50 Cent, Madonna, 2Pac, Rihanna, Drake and [...]


    SAG-AFTRA Leaders Approve Music Video Agreement for Performers

    SAG-AFTRA’s national board has approved unanimously an agreement with major record labels on a three-year successor contract to their music video agreement. The new agreement is effective retroactively from May 1, 2019, through April 30, 2022. The major labels party to the agreement are Warner Records, Atlantic Records, Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group, Capitol [...]

  • Obit Obituary Placeholder

    Phillip Kovac, Concert Industry Veteran, Dies at 65

    Phillip Kovac, a veteran concert promoter, transportation executive and music manager, died in Los Angeles following a battle with PSP, a rare form of Parkinson’s. He was 65. The brother of longtime Motley Crue manager and Eleven Seven Music Group CEO Allen Kovac, Phillip was laid to rest at his home in Houston Texas on [...]

  • Soft Power review

    Off Broadway Review: 'Soft Power'

    The “culture-clash musical” is a familiar template, in which a white American protagonist — waving the flag of individuality, optimism and freedom — trumps and tramps over the complexities of that which is foreign, challenging or “other.” David Henry Hwang and Jeanine Tesori’s “Soft Power,” the new “play with a musical” at Off Broadway’s Public [...]

  • Brandi Carlile Gets Red-Hot and 'Blue'

    Brandi Carlile Gets Red-Hot and 'Blue' Saluting Joni Mitchell at Disney Hall

    If nothing else was established by Brandi Carlile’s live recreation of Joni Mitchell’s 1971 “Blue” album — and plenty else was — it was that the 38-year-old singer has nerves even steelier than her vocal cords are pliable. Mitchell is as impossible to emulate as a ridiculously tricky singer, songwriter and picker as they come, which [...]

  • Rufus Wainwright Signs With BMG for

    Rufus Wainwright Signs With BMG for New Studio Album

    Singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright has signed a new global recordings agreement with BMG to release his upcoming studio album. The still-untitled album, Wainwright’s ninth of original material and first since 2012, is described in the announcement as “a return to form and his most accessible album to date.” To that end, it is “the bookend” to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content