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Dudamel Leads L.A. Philharmonic In Concert

He's got a house in the Hollywood Hills, photographers who document his every move, even a "Super Special" named after him at Pink's, the venerable Los Angeles hot-dog stand. But the latest celebrity in town has never starred in a feature film. He's Gustavo Dudamel, the new music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Dudamel kicked off his tenure with the L.A. Phil Saturday night with a free performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 before an audience of nearly 18,000 at the Hollywood Bowl. The critics liked what they heard, and backstage, after the performance, the young conductor from Venezuela admitted, "It's a dream job."

At 28, Dudamel is a toddler compared with his colleagues at major orchestras around the world. But that doesn't mean he lacks experience. Dudamel started conducting at age 12; he was playing in a kids orchestra and picked up the baton one afternoon when the director arrived late for a rehearsal. And at 18, he became the music director of the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra -- the top ensemble in Venezuela's "El Sistema" network of more than 125 youth orchestras.

"He looks young on the podium, but he doesn't act young," L.A. Philharmonic violist Dana Hansen says. "I've never heard of anyone conducting as much as he has in his young life."

"If you look at what this man has to offer musically," says L.A. Philharmonic clarinetist David Howard, "it's really independent of his age."

Before Dudamel landed the L.A. Philharmonic job, orchestra president Deborah Borda followed him around for two years and watched him work with orchestras across Europe.

"Really, it wasn't a risk," she says about hiring Dudamel. "What does a conductor do? He must seduce the orchestra, he must inspire the orchestra, he must lead and convince the orchestra." Those are things, Borda says, that Dudamel does with ease.

Perpetuating A Legacy

His predecessor for the past 17 seasons, Esa-Pekka Salonen, was both a conductor and a composer who cemented the orchestra's commitment to new music. Signaling his desire to continue in this vein, Dudamel has included nine world premieres in his first season alone, and he'll conduct five of those works himself.

"This amazing legacy that Esa-Pekka has given to the orchestra is so important," Dudamel says. "Here we have a tradition in L.A., a tradition of new things. It's so open, and it's very important for me to keep this alive and then to build our future together."

The future begins Thursday night. Dudamel will conduct a gala, season-opening concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall. He opens with a new piece, by John Adams (the L.A. Phil's new Creative Chair), called "City Noir," inspired by the city of Los Angeles. The concert concludes with Gustav Mahler's First Symphony.

The Gustavo Dudamel Hot Dog at Pink's is topped with guacamole, American and Swiss cheese, fajitas mix, jalapenos and tortilla chips. It's a lot of weight on one dog.

Whether Dudamel is the "savior of classical music," as one local publication put it last week, remains to be determined. But one thing's for sure: He has energized a city that loves its stars. And people who have never been to a classical concert in their lives are now talking about Beethoven. Not bad for his first week on the job.

(For more information about Gustavo Dudamel, please visit gustavodudamel.com, laphil.com/gustavo and amplified.com/dudamel.)

Copyright 2009 Classical KUSC

Brian Lauritzen