When Gustavo Dudamel made his U.S. debut at the Hollywood Bowl in 2005, a Times reviewer described the then-24-year-old Venezuelan conductor as “irresistibly enthusiastic,” with “long sideburns and a baby face.”
Backstage at the Bowl on Tuesday night during a media cocktail soiree, the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s music director marveled over his latest job description: dad. Last month, he and his wife, Eloísa Maturén, became first-time parents with the birth of their son Martin Dudamel Maturén.
Now 30, Dudamel still retains the wunderkind enthusiasm that has helped endear him to audiences from Caracas and L.A. to Gothenburg, not to mention Jay Leno and the producers of “60 Minutes.” But, sporting John Lennon-style reading glasses and a conservative dark sports coat, the physically maturing musician looked equally comfortable in his new role of paterfamilias.
“Being a dad helps you to think different in many ways,” he said. “Because it’s another perspective of life. Because when you were important, you were building things for you, but now it’s a new way to think, you know? Now you have to take care of somebody that is first in your life. That is beautiful. And everything is more calm.”
Talk of life passages seems appropriate to Dudamel’s next big project, “Brahms Unbound,” a thematic cycle that includes the German composer’s complete symphonies and will commence Thursday evening at Walt Disney Concert Hall and conclude June 5. But, lest anyone get the idea that domestic bliss has totally mellowed him, Dudamel has declared his intentions to keep stirring the pot.
“I’m doing really crazy things,” he said, citing a lineup that will partner Brahms’ Second Symphony with Sofia Gubaidulina’s “Glorious Percussion,” aptly named for the ensemble that premiered the piece with the Gothenburg Symphony under Dudamel in 2008; and Brahms’ “A German Requiem” with the West Coast premiere of “Beautiful Passing” by Steven Mackey, who found his groove playing in rock bands and has written concertos for electric guitar.
Some of this craziness was premeditated, but other parts were shaped by fate and even painful loss. This weekend’s program bookends Henri Dutilleux’s “L’arbre des songes” concerto for violin and orchestra with Brahms’ “Academic Festival Overture” and Symphony No. 1. Dutilleux’s work replaces a planned world premiere of a violin concerto by Osvaldo Golijov that the Argentine composer wasn’t able to finish in time.
Another scheduled world premiere, Peter Lieberson’s Percussion Concerto, went unfulfilled when the American composer died in April from complications from lymphoma. The Phil will replace Lieberson’s work with Górecki’s deeply meditative Third Symphony, matched with Brahms’ equally contemplative Symphony No. 3.
Today, Dudamel does most of his talking in English, a language in which he has grown considerably more confident over the last three years. That ability, and his easy stage presence, will be on display to a national audience again on June 5, when he conducts the final “Brahms Unbound” program as part of the “LA Phil Live” series of high-definition concert broadcasts to specially equipped movie theaters in the U.S. and Canada.
Dudamel said that works such as Brahms’ Third remind him that time doesn’t pass; it is we humans who do. The present time, for him and his wife, is focused on a new life, with no thoughts of creating the next Baby Mozart.
“I play him sometimes some notes,” Dudamel said of his son, with a laugh. “I’m not sure he’s a piano player yet.”