Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra

Author: Clemency Burton-Hill

The LA Philharmonic have embarked on their first European Tour with Dudamel at the helm. The first concert is tonight!

‘Virtual combustion’ is the phrase that Deborah Borda, President and Chief Executive of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, uses to describe the exhilarating connection between Gustavo Dudamel and the orchestra, where he has been Music Director since October 2009. When the LA Philharmonic comes to Europe in January 2011 – its first European tour since Dudamel took the reins – audiences at some of the world’s most prestigious concert venues in London, Lisbon, Madrid, Cologne, Paris, Budapest and Vienna can expect ‘excitement, a vibrant sound, combined with a flexibility found in few other orchestras, and a visceral connection between them and the players’. They will also hear  a choice of programme that, Borda tells me, is ’emblematic of the LA Phil’s tradition of juxtaposing new works with established classics’: from the LA Philharmonic Creative Chair John Adams’ Slonimsky’s Earbox, through Leonard Bernstein’s ‘Jeremiah’ Symphony, to Beethoven’s thrilling Seventh Symphony and, in its own concert, the small matter of Mahler’s Ninth. Not only, then, ‘two major pillars of contemporary American music’ and the enduring appeal of Beethoven, but a composer to whom Dudamel feels ‘a special affection’, having kicked off his tenure as Music Director with Mahler’s Symphony No. 1.

The choice of that symphony is something that Robert van Leer, Head of Music and Arts at the Barbican, is particularly thrilled about. ‘Hearing his Mahler 9 will be, I suspect, a great revelation,’ he tells me. ‘I’m hugely excited to finally have the LA Phil here to make music together; we’ve been waiting for this for some time.’

Indeed, the concerts in London in January will mark the beginning of a longer-term relationship between the Barbican and the LA Philharmonic, which van Leer describes as ‘a very important orchestra, representing the best of what is exciting and new in the future of American and international music-making.’ In the 2012-2013 season they will become the fifth Barbican International Associates, following Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Leipzig Gewandhaus, the New York Philharmonic and Concertgebouw. A connection between the orchestra and the Barbican is already well established: in 2007, as one of his last gestures as Music Director, Esa-Pekka Salonen took the LA Philharmonic’s Sibelius Unbound project there, and the upcoming Dudamel concerts in 2011 and residency in 2013 will, says Borda, build upon ‘a thriving relationship between one of the world’s great cultural centres and its audience’.

This question of audience is key. Under Dudamel, whose own background with El Sistema in Venezuela is so remarkable, the orchestra’s commitment to widening horizons and appealing to different audiences has been taken to a new level. ‘He’s bringing to the orchestra a whole new sense of direction,’ van Leer observes; ‘about how they can make music and engage with a broader classical music audience and work with young people, which of course is part of Gustavo’s DNA.’

Such an approach, though, is also an integral part of van Leer’s wider ambition for the Barbican, whose representatives attended the LA Philharmonic’s three-day education symposium ‘Composing Change: YOLA [Youth Orchestras of Los Angeles] and the El Sistema movement’ in May 2010. ‘They were very impressed by the open rehearsal Dudamel led with the YOLA EXPO centre youth orchestra at Walt Disney Hall,’ says Borda, who describes it as ‘our civic responsibility’ to make music accessible ‘to the widest audience possible’. Initiatives such as YOLA, an El-Sistema-style approach to youth orchestras in the LA area must, she feels, be championed abroad as well.

‘After the symposium, the Barbican and LA Phil began discussions about duplicating this effort in London,’ she tells me. ‘Combining forces and resources enables us to further engage with new and local audiences, and reach deeper into communities through outreach and educational work’. While the orchestra is in London, then, Dudamel will hold an open rehearsal, at LSO St Lukes, of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, with a combined orchestra of students from El Sistema-inspired local music education programmes, conservatory students, and musicians from the LA Philharmonic and London Symphony Orchestra. ‘It’s all to play for in terms of how we build on this,’ says van Leer. ‘We start now, giving it a London face with the tour, and then this line of work will be be amplified during the 2013 residency. It could be very powerful indeed.’

Unsurprisingly, given the devoted following Dudamel has garnered in recent years, tickets for the LA Philharmonic’s European tour sold out almost instantly: as Borda says, ‘tickets to see Gustavo Dudamel in Los Angeles are nearly impossible to come by’ and, such is his stratospheric appeal – especially combined with the superb musical force that is the LA Philharmonic – it is apparently no easier anywhere else on the planet. Those lucky local children and students taking part in the LSO/LA Philharmonic outreach programme will have the best seat in the house – but they, as Dudamel knows only too well, deserve it more than anyone.

Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra

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