The orchestra, whose members are all under 25, is the flagship of El Sistema (the System), Venezuela's 32-year-old program of social action through music, which has provided musical training for more than 250,000 children and teenagers, many from impoverished backgrounds.
Dudamel is perhaps the most prominent product of El Sistema. Born in 1981 to a trombonist father and a voice-teacher mother in Barquisimeto, Venezuela -- where he reportedly conducted orchestras of toy soldiers -- he joined El Sistema at age 4 and has said that through it he received his first violin and conductor's baton, his "gifts from heaven." He began studying violin and conducting at age 10.
In 1996, he was named music director of the Amadeus Chamber Orchestra, and in 1999 he became music director of the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra. He also serves as principal conductor of the Gothenburg (Sweden) Symphony Orchestra.
He has conducted the major orchestras of Chicago, Boston, New York and Vienna as well, and in June he'll debut with the Berlin Philharmonic. In fact, he won't return to Los Angeles until November, when he will lead the Israel Philharmonic at Disney Hall, then conduct the L.A. orchestra for two weeks and also go house-hunting.
At the post-concert interface with the Friday audience, he waxed more than enthusiastic about two things: the Philharmonic's plans to launch a youth program similar to El Sistema -- YOLA, or Youth Orchestra L.A. -- and his passion for the Los Angeles musicians he will soon lead.
"The beautiful thing is, they are so open, they want to do new things," he said. "I love them because they are happy, you know? When they are working, they open their souls."
Times staff writer Chris Lee contributed to this report.