Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Welcoming Party with 18,000 Guests

In this morning’s New York Times, I came across an article in the music section entitled “A Welcoming Party with 18,000 Guests”. It was written by Anthony Tommasini and discussed the first concert of the season (this past Saturday) of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Usually, the orchestra performs their concerts in Walt Disney Hall and it is always a formal occasion, like many classical music performances across the world. However, this concert was a free community concert at the Hollywood Bowl. Obviously, a much less formal audience and atmosphere, but the music was only of the highest quality. New conductor Gustavo Dudamel, celebrating his arrival as the eleventh conductor of the orchestra at 28 years old, programmed Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The title of the program was “Bienvenido Gustavo!,” and included, in addition to the orchestra, “a roster of excellent vocal soloists and a chorus of 200, a rainbow coalition of choristers drawn from the Los Angeles Master Chorale, the Albert McNeil Jubilee Singers, the Our Lady of Los Angeles Spanish Choir, the Philippine Chamber Singers and other local ensembles”. There were also other non-classical musicians that performed for more than 2 hours before Dudamel arrived. They included Andraé Crouch, Flea, David Hidalgo, and Herbie Hancock (with actor Jack Black introducing him).

Mr. Dudamel, since arriving in Los Angeles, has reached out to the community in several ways, and has particularly been interested in promoting music education. He has conducted the Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles and has also started a program to provide students with instruments and orchestra training. Dudamel has been modeling this program after the music education system in Venezuela, where he grew up. One hundred students were selected to perform on this first concert of the season. “The students, mostly from minority neighborhoods in South Los Angeles, gamely played through an orchestral arrangement of the “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony by Steven Venz, and their families had pride-of-place seating in the first rows of the bowl”. What an amazing way to reach out the community and promote music education.

The concert was extremely well received and included a prolonged ovation. Mr. Dudamel then addressed the audience in English and Spanish. The finale of the symphony was then repeated, this time with fireworks. “At one point his name appeared above the proscenium in marquee lights: a Hollywood touch. But in Hollywood, why not?”

I find this whole production to be very interesting and intriguing. When does a symphony orchestra ever get an audience of 18,000, and one that is so excited and supportive of their music? I think orchestras across the country need to be aware of what is happening in Los Angeles and follow in some kind of foot steps. This may be the kind of event that will help save the classical music. Sure, it was not in a refined concert hall with amazing acoustics, but it was still an audience of 18,000 cheering for Beethoven. What is better than that?


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