By Victoria Looseleaf
As promised, here are my thoughts, albeit a tad late, on Gustavo Dudamel, AKA, The Dude, conducting Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, which I had the honor and privilege of hearing on his home turf, Walt Disney Concert Hall last month. Granted, since that night The Dude hit the European road with his band, the esteemed Los Angeles Philharmonic, with the same program(s) they played at Disney – garnering, I might add, standing O’s everywhere, even in Mahler’s hallowed Vienna. (My colleague, Brian Lauritzen had the enviable task of accompanying the Phil overseas from which he broadcast daily reports on KUSC-FM – quel gig is that!)
And here’s even better news: The maestro and his orchestra will not only take on the complete Mahler cycle during 2011-2012, but The Dude has – hallelujah – also extended his contract with the Phil as music director through the 2018-19 season. OMG: How lucky are we Angelenos.
Herewith, then, my thoughts: An admitted Mahler buff (I once even brokered a harp whose provenance was traced back to Alma Mahler, that seducer/muse of genius men…and one-time wife of Gustav), I was in complete and utter thrall during the nearly 90-minute rendering by our brilliant young conductor. The symphony is, of course, heavy, and was the composer’s adieu to life, with its achingly slow last movement, the otherworldly Finale. But before those powerful moments, much else was also at play in the fields of Disney.
Filled with bright colors, lovingly wrought, the opening movement a testament to Mahler’s inner struggles, the magisterial work begins with layers of extreme emotion, fanciful one moment, angst-ridden the next. Talk about an aural orgy. The following two movements are ebullience made sonic. Here are the Scherzo and Rondo-Burlesque, lively dances morphing into Goth madness, with simplicity flowing into harmonic richness, indeed, near ethereal purity.
And to say that Dudamel was up to the task is an understatement. Conducting without a score, no less, The Dude could squeeze meaning from the phone book, making his foray into the wrenching last movement beyond breathtaking. But with Death the great equalizer and the conjoining of the inevitable, the final fade to nothingness could not have been more, well, audible. Dudamel, thy name could be sorcerer, controlling those last notes of nearly infinitesimal sounds, followed by a full minute of staggering silence – indeed, a deafening silence that nevertheless spoke volumes and during which the Maestro’s hands were raised, pointing heavenward, before coming oh-so-slowly down to rest at his tuxedoed sides.
Having been to Vienna not that long ago (read about it in my Letter From Vienna in the Los Angeles Times), standing where Mahler stood, taking in the musical history of that wedding cake of a city, I, along with some 2,265 others lucky enough to be in Disney Hall that night, when the thunderous applause was over, could only manage to muster a tear-filled, “Please pass the Kleenex.”
Postscript: More to come as the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s incredible season continues, with The Dude of the hour – and, no doubt, the decade – taking the podium next month in an all-Tchaikovsky program followed by concerts featuring the indelible pianist Martha Argerich. The Goddess of the keyboards will be tackling Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1, beautifully sandwiched between Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music and his Haffner Sympony. Feel the music, enrich your soul and become part of the greatest cultural community in the world. All hail The Dude.