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Twin facets of Gustavo Dudamel on display in gala concert

The prodigy and the people's conductor please the elite and the everyman as the young Venezuelan conducts his first performance at Disney Hall as the L.A. Philharmonic's music director.

October 09, 2009|Reed Johnson

There were box seats for the VIPs and a "bleachers" section for the boisterous party crowd, with their beach blankets, sleeping bags and picnic hampers.

But the hottest tickets in town last night weren't to be found only at Dodger Stadium, where the home team bested the St. Louis Cardinals in the ninth inning of a playoff game. They also were being distributed downtown, where Gustavo Dudamel picked up his baton in his inaugural performance at Walt Disney Concert Hall as new music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

At Disney, the black-tied and diamond-bedecked set, including Don Johnson, Sherry Lansing, Dana Delany and Andy Garcia, strode a red carpet past lines of paparazzi and into the hall, where champagne flutes were being lifted.

Directly across the street, about 1,500 people packed into the Music Center plaza and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion to munch $6 hot dogs, sip wine and watch a live simulcast on large TV screens of the young Venezuelan maestro leading a formidable double-header of John Adams' "City Noir," a world premiere, followed by Mahler's Symphony No. 1 in D major.

The split-screen evening, with its two technologically intertwined venues, reflected twin facets of Dudamel. Inside the sleekly angular concert hall designed by Frank Gehry (in attendance, naturally) there was Dudamel the 28-year-old prodigy whom the classical music world has anointed its newest star.

On the flat screens at the Music Center there was the man dubbed "the people's conductor," extending the populist reach of his art form.

Both Dudamels proved to be a big hit.

"It's so intense. He just goes wild," Ariselda Herrera, 27, said of Dudamel's rendition of Adams' piece, during intermission. "It reminded me of a Disney movie. I was waiting for the bad guy to come out. It was kind of like 'Fantasia.' "

Herrera's friends were equally impressed.

"I love his hair. The way it bounces when he gets really into it is cute," said Laura Castaneda, 26.

"He's so cute. I love his dimples," chimed in Mariella Garcia, 23, who said she was skipping "The Vampire Diaries" on television to be there.

Inside Disney, Dudamel's initial appearance onstage was greeted enthusiastically by an audience that included his family, his mentor, Jose Antonio Abreu, a cross-section of Southern California's philanthropic elites and cultural intelligentsia and a smattering of Hollywood.

Hollywood's shadow loomed over Adams' atmospheric piece, with its bursts of percussion like back-alley rumbles and insinuating woodwinds that suggested a cooing femme fatale. The composer sat listening keenly with his hands folded together, head slightly bowed.

At the conclusion, Dudamel summoned Adams onstage, and the two embraced warmly as the audience rose in applause.

Showing his mastery of Mahler, Dudamel conducted the second piece from memory. Silver and magenta confetti rained down during the 12-minute ovation that followed.

A larger crowd than materialized had been anticipated for the Music Center's free simulcast, for which tickets had been awarded by lottery.

But though somewhat undersized, the audience -- a mixed-age, ethnically diverse ensemble dressed in a variety of leisure, work and formal attire -- was clearly energized to be present. There were toddlers and seniors, downtown residents and those who'd braved rush-hour traffic to come in from the suburbs.

David Arrieta, 14, snuggled up in a sleeping bag outside the Dorothy Chandler just after 6 p.m. There was no time to waste. He was hurriedly trying to finish his algebra homework before the concert began. With a calculator beside him, he solved a few equations. Then a few more.

"I have English and history work next," he said, pointing to his backpack.

But before he crunched any more numbers, he texted a few friends to let them know about the performance he was about to see.

His mother, Frances Donato, 48, sat next to him. The two had traveled from Covina -- "It only took 30 minutes!" Donato said -- and arrived around 5:30 p.m. Donato said she had used two e-mail addresses in the online lottery.

"I take any chance I get to expose my son to classical music," she said. "I want to open his mind. I've heard a lot of great things about Dudamel."

Surveying the plaza throng, Josephine Ramirez, the Music Center's vice president of programming and planning, said the simulcast was one example of how her organization hopes to continue using technology to deliver art to wider audiences.

"People have heard about the Jumbotron experience at Lincoln Center," she said, referring to outdoor simulcasts at the landmark Manhattan venue. "People in my circles say L.A. should be doing some of this stuff. We have better weather than they do."

Stephen Rountree, president of the Music Center, concurred.

"We want to do more of this," he said. "We want to open the place up to the people."

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David Ng and Yvonne Villarreal contributed to this report.

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latimes.com/dudamelgala

Critic and crowds

Go online for a review of the concert and more photos of the gala event.

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