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Dude's On Fire

October 5, 2009

gistav.jpegJust about every minute of the five hours I spent sitting in the nosebleeds at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles was worth the one and a half hour slog in the broiling heat I undertook to reach the venue from my friend's place in West Hollywood on Saturday afternoon. The occasion -- Gustavo Dudamel's inaugural appearance as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic -- was a passionate, inclusive affair which filled the 18,000-seat arena by the time the orchestra sat down to play Beethoven's Symphony Number 9.

I wasn't crazy about the acoustic from where I was sitting. The Beethoven sounded much more sluggish than I expected it to. But the vistas of the huge crowds were something to behold from up high.

Some personal highlights of the afternoon/evening:

Actor/Comedian Jack Black coming on stage and remarking of the Venezuelan maestro: "Dude's on Fire!"

The Silverlake Conservatory Ensemble's take on several Stevie Wonder songs, sung with great verve by a group of young vocalists. The singers were backed by a crack team of musicians led by Flea, bassist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and violist, saxophonist and harmonica player Keith Barry. Barry and Flea are co-founders of the Silverlake Conservatory, a neighborhood music education center. I was really impressed by the energy and fun of this group. They performed with a lot of natural flair.

The community-mindedness of the event as a whole. The LA Phil did a pretty good job of highlighting local community music organizations, especially those that work with children. Performers other than the Silverlake group included The New Christ Memorial Church Adult and Children's Choir, the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts Jazz Band, Los Cenzontles (A youth group specializing in Mexican musical traditions founded in the Bay Area) and the the LA Phil's own YOLA Expo Center Youth Orchestra. YOLA obviously has a long way to go before it starts resembling anything like the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra that grew out of the Venezuelan El Sistema program upon which the LA Phil is basing its own education projects. Still, the young musicians, many of whom didn't pick up their instruments until two years ago, did a serviceable job with Steven Venz's arrangement of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy". If there was one major message to take away from the celebration as a whole, it's that Dudamel is absolutely focused on music education and multiculturalism.

Last, but not least, here's my favorite quote of the enire ¬°Bienvenido Gustavo! celebration, overheard from a conversation between two nearby music journalists: "I'm glad this day is soon going to be over, cos I'm tired of looking for the upside down exclamation mark on my keyboard."

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