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After a year in which audiences couldn’t enjoy the Los Angeles Philharmonic in person due to the pandemic, the orchestra returned with a boisterous gala on Saturday night at Walt Disney Concert Hall. The evening included performances by Cynthia Erivo, pianist Seong-Jin Cho and a drumline.

Conductor Gustavo Dudamel, who was also named music director of the Opéra National de Paris in April, reminisced about his start 12 years ago at the helm of the L.A. Phil,.”My hair was almost all black. …We have missed playing here at the amazing Frank Gehry concert hall,” he said. But looking at the situation optimistically, he added, “We celebrate the fact that life interruptions are opportunities.”

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Walt Disney Concert Hall Opening Night Gala
Photos by Craig T. Mathew and Greg Grudt/Mathew Imaging
Mathew Imaging

At the start of the lockdown, the Phil had been celebrating Black artists with its Power to the People festival. “We thought we would be back next week or next month, but it’s not been next week or next month. It’s been more than a year,” Dudamel said.

Following the concert, guests streamed across a black carpet to the Jerry Moss Plaza. The festivities, which raised nearly $3 million for the Phil and its philanthropies, included Youth Orchestra L.A. member Christine Kivi playing a Bach solo on the cello and Drumline Live giving a rousing performance.

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Walt Disney Concert Hall Opening Night Gala
Photos by Craig T. Mathew and Greg Grudt/Mathew Imaging
Mathew Imaging

Chad Smith, chairman of the L.A. Phil board of directors, said the evening was dubbed a homecoming because it was not only football season but also the return of the orchestra to its home. “Tonight, the Walt Disney Concert Hall reverberates with music,” he said.

Saluting Dudamel, Smith said, “Paris is excited to have Gustavo, something that we have experienced  night after night. His creativity is boundless. Gustavo, you are the center of gravity for our institution.”

Dudamel told guests at the dinner, “What I do is not a job, it is a mission. … We are here because music is a medicine that connects all of us with something that we don’t see, but feel. This is magic.”