Dudamel begins trip ‘to the stars’

On his first official day of rehearsal with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, amid an enthusiastic welcome from musicians and unprecedented media fanfare, Gustavo Dudamel wanted to make one thing perfectly clear: He’s ready to get down to business.

At 28, Dudamel is carrying the weight of his new title -- the L.A. Phil’s music director -- as well as great expectations from the classical music world on his shoulders. But speaking Wednesday at a news conference at his new home, Walt Disney Concert Hall, Dudamel rejected frequent media speculation that the formidable demands of the prestigious post could prove too much for him.

The Venezuelan conductor calls his English “terrible,” but he had no problem putting his thoughts on this matter into words: “No -- really, no,” he said in answer to the question following the day’s rehearsals. “I think we have to be clear on something: I’m doing what I love to do. This is part of my natural life.”

And Dudamel waxed rhapsodic about his first day -- more specifically, about his first note. “It’s very simple to put your hand here and then go down,” he said, pantomiming his first graceful downbeat with the baton. “But to feel coming from the musicians this first note in my life is so special. I am really, really happy; I think we will have a beautiful journey, we will go, like, to the stars . . . dreams come true; the best example is this day.”


Musicians had equally positive things to say about the new boss before the day’s rehearsal began. Principal bass player Chris Hanulik said the arrival of Dudamel truly warranted the attention of the city. “It’s thrilling for us, but in a larger sense for L.A. and the classical music scene,” he said. “He’s an incredibly dynamic person; he’s a force of nature.”

Violinist Barry Socher, who has been with the Los Angeles Philharmonic since 1981, agreed. The veteran musician has seen several transitions of music director at the philharmonic, including the arrival of just-departed music director Esa-Pekka Salonen in 1992 and Andre Previn in 1985, but said: “I think this means more, in many ways. . . . What’s most important is his humility. Many conductors don’t know what that word means, much less exhibit it.”

Dudamel was given the official “family greeting” from the orchestra upon his arrival: cheers, applause, waves and musical fanfare.

The demands of the day included a phalanx of cameras that followed Dudamel up the stairs, trained lenses on his breakfast hug-athon with orchestra members and shadowed him into the orchestra hall. “It’s overwhelming -- we don’t say yes to everything,” said Los Angeles Philharmonic Assn. President Deborah Borda, who sat at Dudamel’s side throughout the news conference. “We have to keep everything in perspective.”

Borda had earlier mentioned that “NBC Nightly News” was planning a feature on Dudamel to air this week, but she later said that the earthquake-generated tsunami in Samoa had demanded so much NBC personnel and resources that the Dudamel story was postponed until next week.

These days it seems that only a tsunami can divert attention away from Dudamel, whose inaugural performance as music director of the philharmonic will be a free community concert Saturday at the Hollywood Bowl. On Oct. 8, Dudamel will lead the L.A. Philharmonic in the inaugural gala at Disney Hall.

Because of his youthful appeal and determination to reach out to new audiences, some music writers have hailed him as the savior of classical music.

Dudamel rejected that notion -- pointing out that there are a number of young conductors working in today’s orchestra world. And he added that, in Los Angeles, it is “not only Gustavo Dudamel; I am part of a group of 120 musicians. I’m part of a big group of artists,” he said. “I am a part of this -- it’s not only me.”

Borda also threw in a comment directed at those who may be expecting Dudamel to become a one-man musical and social revolution.

“I have to say one thing -- he’s only been elected music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, not president of the United States.”