Ever since his appointment to the music directorship of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, there has been considerable buzz about Venezuelan-born Gustavo Dudamel. In fact, Dudamel's work has been under the international spotlight since he began touring and recording with the young musicians of the Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar in 1999. He has turned many a head while garnering praise from the likes of Sir Simon Rattle, Claudio Abbado and Jamie Berstein. Bernstein has stated very publicly that she sees her father (Leonard Bernstein) in Dudamel.
Of course, the problem with any of this is the uncertainty of media spin. How much of what we are hearing about Gustavo Dudamel is real and how much is publicist invention? I have to admit that I have taken a wait and see attitude, tempered by a degree of skepticism. After all, this guy Dudamel is only 29 (he turns 30 on January 26, 2011). Let's keep in mind that Bernstein was 39 when he took over the New York Philharmonic; he began his justly heralded Young People's Concerts series the following year.
Watching last night's Tavis Smiley report Dudamel: Conducting a Life, dissolved my doubts about young Dudamel. If there are other "doubting Thomases" out there, I highly recommend that you catch a repeat of Smiley's report. Not only does this put to rest any reservations regarding the maturity of Dudamel, Mr. Smiley's program also shows a way to the future of classical music through music education. This is not necessarily about making more professional musicians. Dudamel's passion, based upon the renowned El Systema devised by Venezuelan economist and musician José Antonio Abreu, is more about rekindling social change and emotional honesty. Yes, it is that profound!
For those reading this in the San Antonio area, there are several more opportunities to watch Dudamel: Conducting a Life on KLRN. Check here for program listings specific to this essential viewing. Not in the San Antonio area, or you just can't catch one of the broadcasts? The Tavis Smiley Reports series is generally made available for online viewing in a timely manner.