Gustavo Dudamel’s sound sistema

One year into his gig as director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, 29-year-old Gustavo Dudamel is making good on his promises. When he arrived in LA in the fall of 2009, he talked about building a repertoire that relied both on the familiar classical canon, as well as contemporary pieces. He said he wanted to redefine American music to include composers from both North and South America, and that he wanted to take classical music out of staid concert halls in order to deliver it to the masses.

“In a way, classical music has been confined to a very small segment of society, and I think it is very important to bring it to the community at large,” he said, sitting in front of the Walt Disney Concert Hall’s stage in Los Angeles. “That’s what I’m working on, but I’m not the only one. Thankfully, I’m part of a new generation `of young directors`.”

Dudamel conducts both the Philharmonic and the Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles (YOLA) – a group involving inner-city kids in classical music modeled on Venezuela’s El Sistema, a state program Dudamel grew up with. For his second season with LA Phil, the boy from Barquisimeto and the orchestra will reach even bigger audiences: on Sunday, January 9, he will direct the first-ever live broadcast of a two and a half hour LA Phil concert, which will be shown in about 450 movie theaters across the U.S. and Canada (in San Antonio it shows at both the Regal Cielo Vista Stadium 18 and the Regal Fiesta 16 Stadium).

The program starts with John Adams’ Slonimsky’s Earbox and Leonard Bernstein’s Symphony No. 1, “Jeremiah,” and it concludes with Beethoven’s wildly popular Symphony No. 7, most familiar territory for the maestro, who was conducting all of the composer’s work as a teen.

The son of a salsa trombone player, “Gustavito” was famously conducting his toy-soldier orchestra as a child when he asked his grandmother to take him to the conservatory. That was, and still is, well within the means of all citizens of Venezuela, where El Sistema has established music schools, handing out free instruments across the country.

“I think I’m part of that beautiful dream by `El Sistema founder` Maestro José Antonio Abreu,” he said. “But I’m not trying to help music ‘survive,’ because music will live and be beautiful forever, and art will always be important.”

Maestro Abreu recognized Dudamel’s natural talent quickly, selecting him to conduct the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra when he was only 16. He remains its director to this day, and he holds a similar title at Sweden’s Gothenburg Symphony. But it is Los Angeles – a city in which he can express himself in as much Spanish as he wants — that is reaping the benefits of Dudamel’s extraordinary talents these days. The LA Phil has even plastered the city with posters showing Dudamel conducting with the word Pasión printed in Spanish, accent and all.

He’s got Venezuelan salsero Oscar D’León and Dominican merengue superstar Juan Luis Guerra on his iPod, and he and his wife Eloísa Maturén, a ballet dancer, have been seen throwing some mean salsa steps at parties.

“Yes, I dance a lot,” he says, proud of the fact that he can also enjoy pop music. The couple is now expecting their first child.

Despite an effort to nickname him “The Dude” and having a not-Venezuelan-at-all spicy hot dog named after him at a famed local eatery, Dudamel has resisted going Hollywood.

Well, perhaps not entirely. He was scheduled to make his first appearance on Jay Leno on January 4, just in time to plug the January 9 mega blast. “Classical music is cool,” he said at his introductory press conference in 2009. But in our brief conversation, he told me it is more than that.

“Music does change the world,” he said. “It gives sensibility, culture, and knowledge to society, and that’s what we have to leave for our children, grandchildren, and our grandchildren’s grandchildren. That’s the goal. Just look at our YOLA Project. I’ve just finished a `Philharmonic` rehearsal, and now I’m going to rehearse with the kids. The exact same music, arranged for a children’s orchestra. I look at their eyes, and I see music’s beautiful message; I see what music means to the world.” •

LA Phil Live: Dudamel Conducts Beethoven

Regal Cielo Vista Stadium 18

4pm Sun, Jan 9

2828 Cinema Ridge

(210) 680-1125



Regal Fiesta 16 Stadium

4pm Sun., Jan. 9

12631 Vance Jackson

(210) 641-6906