BWW Review: DUDAMEL AND THE LOS ANGELES PHILHARMONIC at Geffen Hall - First the Dodgers, then the Giants...
Sunday was gorgeous. So gorgeous, in fact, the first half of the day distracted me - cutting my trek to the Dudamel/LA Phil concert dangerously close. After running home and tossing on my short-suit, I threw myself into the middle of Columbus Avenue in a frenzied flail - praying for a lit cab. Luckily, one stopped and I flung myself inside, hopeful the driver knew how to get to Lincoln Center. You'd think this would be easy - it's a straight shot down Columbus - but my last driver was, apparently, not familiar with this New York landmark...
Thankfully, my Nigerian prince did not disappoint and he headed down Columbus at full speed, slowing only when we reached a dreaded Upper West Side street fair. They're cute, in theory, but not when you're running late for a concert with the rock star of classical music at the helm. This stall was just the invitation my prince needed to start up a conversation - which immediately gave me pause. These get-to-know-you chats are always rife with landmines and moments of deep suicidal desires. He asked me where I was going and immediately my hand hovered over the door handle, preparing for the moment I would, inevitably, need to barrel roll into traffic, avoiding any further conversation. But, after I told him about the LA Phil, he made a joke about California - how they steal 'everything' from New York. My hand returned to my lap. It was possible this California shade could bond us. I considered maybe, just maybe, we were going to make it. Then, he launched into the history of the Brooklyn Dodgers (now the Los Angeles Dodgers) and the New York Gothams (now the San Francisco Giants), likening their coercion west to a dirty old man luring a child to his windowless van allegedly brimming with puppies and candy. Just as he got going, we pulled up to the hall, ending his opportunity for elaboration on a story I assumed was fantasy.
After whirling through the lobby to get my tickets, getting shoved by a few octogenarians on the way - it's amazing how serious that generation takes lobby navigation at an assigned seating event - I was able to do some fact-checking. He was right. California DID 'steal' these baseball teams. I felt like I had just received intel on the enemy as I entered the battlefield of Geffen Hall. I was now a spy working on behalf of the city of New York. Was there something to be done of this injustice?
At the beginning of the concert, Dudamel entered the space mild-manneredly - almost unassuming. This wasn't what I was expecting from the charismatic rock star persona I'd created in my head. I sat back, waiting - assuming the flamboyance would come with his conducting. It didn't...not really. What I'd soon realize, though, was that I'd failed to properly identify the subtle swagger of a true legend - the power and influence of which would later reveal itself. I noted my findings, sure that these observations would be useful for the people of New York. Though, to what end, I'd yet to determine.
He lifted his arms and the orchestra fell immediately under his spell. He would give the smallest indication of his desires and the entire ensemble would respond with instantaneous expression. It was akin to watching Elvis throw a flick of his hips, making a swath of women swoon - they were that tuned-in. It was this subtlety in his artwork that showed his true mastery. He was able to change the texture of the massive orchestra in such a seamlessly immediate way that watching the orchestra execute this was like witnessing a linebacker effortlessly execute perfect ballet.
This command inspired passion in the performers to such extremes that the cello solo in the Bernstein injected itself into my soul, touching my naughty bits, and shrunk the expanse of Geffen Hall to the size of an intimate salon. This continued into the second act as the ensemble tackled Beethoven 9 (the first piece Dudamel ever conducted and performed when he began his tenure as music director of the LA Phil in 2009). He sparked impassioned conversations between sections, inspiring astounding responsiveness. It was like watching the only threesome in existence that ever worked. He knew every nook and cranny of whatever pair of lovers his attention was focused on. He knew where to touch and where to kiss to send them into fits of ecstasy. The more the sections would writhe in duet, the more Dudamel would prod. It was explosive to witness. At one point, he coddled and calmed the double basses and cellos into such quiet, focused sensitivity that the massively populated sections produced the aural equivalent of a duet of only two instruments.
And it didn't stop there. He would change tempo and meter with ease. It was a masterclass in moving from one fit of passion to another. His luxurious dexterity was shockingly exquisite. He had the ensemble under his complete and total control and yet it didn't even look like he was trying. It was as easy as walking down the street for him - executed with an effortless gait of focused passion.
The music created from his joy moved me to tears. Something special happened that day. And maybe it always happens when he's on the podium - but I can't speak to that. I can only say that something magical was witnessed that afternoon in Geffen Hall, and that's when, all of a sudden, the fruits of my rapt attention blossomed. It was in this moment I realized the solution to New York's injustice. It's been 50 years - it's time for California to pay reparations. I mean, two baseball teams for a conductor sounds like a worthwhile trade to me... No?
Photo Credit: Kevin Yatarola