Monday, May 17, 2010

Dudamania recedes

Well, that didn't take long.

Nine months ago, Gustavo Dudamel made his debut as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic to an ecstatic public and critical reception. Now the 29-year-old Venezuelan conductor and the LA Phil are performing on a nationwide tour.

Along the way, critics are finding that Dudamel doesn't deliver the goods in the tour programs’ two warhorses, Mahler’s First Symphony and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 ("Pathétique").

In a May 14 concert, The Chicago Tribune's John von Rhein heard "half-formed interpretative ideas betray[ing] a lack of musical depth" . . .,0,344839.column

"At times Dudamel and the orchestra seemed utterly in sync, only to turn the page and come to grief on a simple question of ensemble or instrumental balance," the San Francisco Chronicle's Joshua Kosman wrote after a pair of performances earlier in the month:

Dudamel certainly wouldn't be the first young conductor to come to grief essaying big standard works before he was ready. Getting the measure of the "Pathétique" requires seasoning, not just as a musician but as a human being. The same is true of the Mahler Fifth Symphony, which Dudamel recorded, with only middling success, in his mid-20s.

Most conductors make their maiden voyages in such music leading provincial orchestras in performances that never make it into their press kits. Dudamel will not be shielded by obscurity in his first goes and inevitable stumbles; so he should take extra care in selecting repertory, especially for high-profile touring and guest-conducting dates.

He would do well to look at the careers of Simon Rattle and Marin Alsop, two other conductors who attracted wide notice when they were young. Both wisely took their time getting to the 19th-century warhorses.

ADDENDUM 1: Another view, and more misgivings, from the Chicago Sun-Times' Andrew Patner:

ADDENDUM 2: Reviewing the May 17 performance at the Kennedy Center, The Washington Post's Anne Midgette writes of "one of the most involving and compelling performances of Tchaikovsky’s 'Pathétique' symphony I’ve ever heard. This was music played by someone who loves music, someone who had an idea where he was going with the piece; and the orchestra opened its collective heart and went right along with him. Perfect? No. Gorgeous? Yes." . . .

ADDENDUM 3: The Baltimore Sun's Tim Smith on the Washington concert:

ADDENDUM 4: "[A] slightly unkempt performance of John Adams' 'City Noir' . . . and an unremarkable Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6. But classical music was winning friends. Did it matter that many came for something other than the music?" writes Peter Dobrin in The Philadelphia Inquirer:

ADDENDUM 5: "Rough and unfocused" Tchaikovsky at Lincoln Center, writes The New York Times' Anthony Tommasini: