Music review: Gustavo Dudamel’s second L.A. Phil gala at Disney Concert Hall


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Gustavo Dudamel’s opening gala Thursday night may not have been quite the media circus the affair was a year ago. Then, a young Venezuelan sensation taking charge of the Los Angeles Philharmonic was an international occasion. But the glow is not off the Dude, and the world will get another peek into Walt Disney Concert Hall. Television cameras once more were everywhere for an upcoming PBS broadcast on “Great Performances” and eventual DVD release. And this time they were 3-D!

Dudamel, of course, no longer has as much to prove, and unlike last year’s gala -- with the world premiere of John Adams’ ambitious “City Noir” and Mahler’s First Symphony -– he could loosen up a bit. Still, savvy programming proved remarkably apt, given the news of the day.


Thursday’s soloist was the popular Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flórez, and he began the program’s second half with one of his country’s most popular songs, “La Flor de la Canela.” The morning report had led off with the announcement that the Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, who happened to have been a guest at Flórez’s wedding in Lima two years ago, had been awarded the Nobel Prize for literature.

The evening began with Rossini and, in its own way, no lack of ambition. Indeed, three overtures and arias had been scheduled. But Dudamel told the audience that he has a bad habit of over-packing his suitcases and is typically forced to pay extra when checking in at the airport. It turns out, he said, he has the same tendency on the podium. He found that his program was “a little bit too heavy” with “too much sugar maybe.” So he removed the “William Tell” Overture and an aria from that opera.

I was sorry to see them go, even though the program was already longer than two hours without them. Dudamel is an inspired Rossinian and the composer is Flórez’s specialty.

First off was a cute sucker punch, though probably unintended. Opening nights often are introduced by the National Anthem. So when Dudamel walked on stage and signaled a drum roll, many of us, patriotically Pavlovian, leapt to our feet. The snare, however, belonged to Rossini, which is how he began the overture to “La Gazza Ladra,” a comic opera about a thieving magpie. That got our attention.

In the overture to “Semiramide,” Dudamel rode Rossini’s crescendos like a surfer on an epic wave, sending nature’s power into to the concert hall. He brought out wonderful instrumental details. The orchestra sparkled.

I’m relieved to be able to report that Flórez sang splendidly in arias from “La Cenerentola” (“Principe più non se”) and “Semiramide” (“La speranza più soave”). His recent recordings have been worrisome. In Gluck’s “Orphée et Eurydice,” for instance, he forces music that needs restraint. A saccharine album of sacred songs, “Santo,” coming out later this month and aimed at the Christmas market, reveals Flórez even more heavy-handed.


But his Rossini with Dudamel was all class. The tenor effortlessly negotiated fluid ornamentation, blending ardor and elegance. His voice has a natural lightness and Dudamel scaled back sensitively to accompany his soloist, although he went to town whenever the singer rested.

Flórez made his own flowery orchestral arrangement of Chabuca Granda’s “La Flor de la Canela” (“The Cinnamon Flower”) and sang it on the formal side. But the style is literally in his blood. His father, Rubén Flórez, a guitarist and honey-toned singer of popular Peruvian music, helped turn the song into an unofficial anthem of Lima.

Flórez’s other amiable numbers were Mexican -- Agustin Lara (“Granada”) and Maria Grever (“Júrame”) -– and Venezuelan (Pedro Elias Gutiérrez’s “Alma Ilanera”). The lights danced over the performers and the hall, changing from blue to violet to purple to gold. The organ for a while was bathed in orchid. A critic’s two cents are unnecessary.

Dudamel also led exciting, characterful accounts of two lively and well-known nationalist Mexican scores, José Pablo Moncayo’s “Huapango” and Arturo Márquez’s “Danzón No. 2.” The percussion was hot. An accordionist, John Torcello, sat in the middle of the orchestra.

There were a few statistics worth notng. Two composers were women -- Granda and Grever -– a rare occurrence at big-deal orchestra galas. Dudamel conducted everything from memory. Flórez’s two thrilling encores were “Ah! Mes Amis” (from Donizetti’s “The Daughter of the Regiment”) and “La Donne e Mobile” (from Verdi’s “Rigoletto”). The concert was a benefit, for which the players donated their services, to support the orchestra’s education programs. The initial broadcast and DVD of the concert will be in standard 2-D; the extra dimension was an experiment. -- Mark Swed



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