Dispatch from London: On tour with Dudamel and the L.A. Philharmonic


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With Friday night’s performance of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony at London’s Barbican Center, the Los Angeles Philharmonic will pass the halfway mark of its seven-city, 13-concert tour across Europe.

During Gustavo Dudamel’s first overseas trip with the orchestra since he took over as musical director, the Phil has been met (not surprisingly) by mixed reviews from the critics but enthusiastic audiences. Not so different from its U.S. tour last year.


Times London bureau chief Henry Chu caught up with the tour Thursday night and then on Friday watched at a concert hall near the Barbican, as Dudamel and the Phil worked with young British musicians.

Click here to read Chu’s full report.

And continue reading for excerpts from the London critics:

Ivan Hewett wrote in the Telegraph: ‘After the Adams Dudamel led the orchestra in Bernstein’s precociously brilliant First Symphony, where the young composer projects his own search for religious faith onto to the travails of the prophet Jeremiah. Like the man himself the piece is deeply conflicted, with one foot in the synagogue, another on Broadway. Dudamel brought it off magnificently by simply playing each side of the work for all it was worth. By the end of soprano Kelley O’Connor’s vibrantly tragic rendition of the Lamentations in the final movement, I’d been mesmerised into thinking I’d had a genuinely deep experience.... Then came Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, a piece that knows exactly where it stands, and has no need of grandstanding gestures. But that sense of magnificent assurance was exactly what the performance lacked.... There’s a balance to be struck between boldly interpreting the music and yet somehow letting it ‘speak for itself,’ and Dudamel hasn’t found it yet.’ Tim Ashley wrote in the Guardian: ‘[Bernstein’s First Symphony’s] gaunt, thudding opening soon headed implacably towards climaxes that oppressed through sheer force of decibels. Dudamel centred the work, however, in its scherzo, with its collisions between mockery and violence.... But the Beethoven was electrifying. Dudamel used almost unfashionably large forces by UK standards, but controlled them superbly throughout. Textural complexity was balanced by tremendous grace of phrasing and the instrumental solos were often exquisitely played.... Some might have preferred more differentiation between the contrasting speeds of the scherzo and trio, and Dudamel took the finale so swiftly that occasional details vanished in the exaltation of it all. It was impossible not to be swept away. That visceral quality that made him so famous with the Bólivars was present in his Beethoven in spades.’

And from Edward Seckerson in the Independent: ‘The Los Angeles Philharmonic seemed to bring all the shiny surfaces of their spanking Disney concert hall with them to London. Their tour opener -– John Adams’ ‘Slonimsky’s Earbox’ -– was a Californian dazzler.... You can’t get much more American than that –- unless, of course, you bring Bernstein, too. It was good to hear the youthful 1st Symphony “Jeremiah” for a change. It doesn’t get out much these days -– well, not in London –- and it’s a wonderfully precocious example of everything Bernstein was and Dudamel hopes to be.... Dudamel is good at the extremes. It’s the in-betweens he needs to explore more....Y es, the energy was galvanic, yes, he really nailed the finale’s big climax, but when Beethoven 7th is exhausting as opposed to exhilarating something is wrong.’

Above: Gustavo Dudamel conducts young musicians in London. Credit: Rosie Reed Gold



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-- Sherry Stern