Critic's pick: Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela

Critic's pick: Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela
The Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela conducted by Gustavo Dudamel at Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2007, when it was still called the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra. (Ringo H.W. Chiu / For The Times)

The Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, which will be a major component of the Los Angeles Philharmonic's TchaikovskyFest this weekend and next week, is the youngest, newest, biggest and, for sure, the hottest (in terms of sheer physicality), of the world's major orchestras.

You've got to see them — typically around 200 strong players mostly ranging from late teens to late twenties — playing with a forcefulness, unanimity and energy that is unique in orchestral life.


Typically, the indefatigable Bolivars take on many guises. The heart of the TchaikovskyFest will be Gustavo Dudamel's performances of the six Tchaikovsky symphonies, divided between the L.A. Phil and the Bolívars. The Venezuelans contribute No. 2 on Friday night (in a program with Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto featuring the young Russian soloist, Alina Pogostkina) and Nos. 3 and 4 on Monday. On Wednesday, the Bolivar program is that of Tchaikovsky's Shakespeare pieces, with the help of actors Orlando Bloom, Robert Sean, Joe Morton and Condola Rashad.

But the orchestra that is the showcase of Venezuela's El Sistema education program and of which Dudamel has been music director since 1999 when it was still a youth ensemble, will also join players from YOLA, the L.A.-based youth orchestra patterned after Sistema, for a free concert at Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral on Tuesday evening that includes Tchaikovsky's Second Symphony.

And forget the pre-Oscars. For the TchaikFest climax on the afternoon of March 2, the big blowout will be the combined Bolivars and L.A. Phil performing the “1812 Overture” — good luck, Academy, topping that.