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Dudamel/BolivarYouth Orchestra, in Chicago, 4/10/09

Music Ramblings: Apr 11, 2009, Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela/Gustavo Dudamel

Orchestra Hall, Chicago, 4/10/09

First off, it was a good program. It opened with the 2nd suite of Ravel's Daphnis and Chloe, and it was stunning, the huge orchestra powerful, precise and beautiful both overall and also at the solo and small ensemble levels. Add to that, they were SO wrapped up in playing the music, with an enthusiasm that'll make it hard to go back to watching the usual, comparatively staid CSO.

Next up was something I heard him do with the CSO at his debut concert with them, Castellanos' "Santa Cruz de Pacairigua." I liked it then, and I liked it this time.

The second half was the Tchaikovsky 4th symphony, and the more I hear of Dudamel, the more he reminds me of great conductors of yore, the first titans that recorded. The usually subtle gearshifts wedded to often extreme tempos--the orchestra was jaw-dropping in the fleet pizzicato scherzo that Dudamel drove full throttle--made it deeply satisfying. The audience went nuts and got 2 SBYO encore specialties, Malambo from Ginastera's Estancia, and Mambo from Bernstein's West Side Story. Here's where the players do their dance moves and, by orchestra standards, riotous revelry.

I have to mention where I was sitting--in the Terrace, which they sell for concerts like this, with overflow demand. It's where the chorus would be, right behind and just above the orchestra, facing Dudamel. The sonic quirks of the spot, at least last night were more than compensated by the added visuals. It was hard not to think of Bernstein at times, like when Dudamel conducted virtually all of the 3rd movement of the Tchaikovsky only with his eyebrows, facial expressions, and an occasional shrug, arms at his side. Probably sounds like a gimmick in description, but the results--ahh!

My seat, facing most of the audience, allowed me to see the spurts of national pride (during breaks only), with a couple groups of Venezuelan flag wavers at the back of the main floor and in the balcony. The energy felt a little bit more like a soccer match than a typical night in Orchestra Hall.

Walking down and out, the "kids" (look like high school through college) were using the same stairs, and it was as excited a bunch post-concert as they had been on stage. "Great concert," I said to one of them, and he grinned and said "Thanks!" On top of it all, he seemed like a nice kid, too.

Dave Royko


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