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Editor's note: ClassicalKUSC's Brian Lauritzen is traveling with the LA Phil during their trip to Caracas and reporting on the orchestra's activities for the radio station. We're incredibly gratified that he took some time out of his own reporting and producing duties to pen a guest post for us. You can see his updates from Caracas by following @BrianKUSC on Twitter or at the KUSC Blog.
Chatting with LA Philharmonic President and CEO Deborah Borda in the bar of our hotel in Caracas the other night, we realized that - other than the staff and musicians of the orchestra - no one on the planet has heard Gustavo Dudamel conduct the LA Phil in more performances of Mahler’s 9th Symphony than I have. I’ve been lucky enough to experience multiple performances of the work in Los Angeles, plus go to concerts in London, Paris, Budapest, Vienna, and now Caracas.
As a journalist and a classical music lover, the assignment of covering the LA Phil is one that I quite enjoy. Not only do I love bringing the orchestra’s radio broadcast series to Classical KUSC (and beyond), but traveling with the orchestra is an immense amount of fun. (And hard work. Last night I was up until after 4:00am writing blog posts and producing radio features. Suffice it to say I was not ready for the alarm to go off at 7:00am.) Part of my coverage of these LA Phil tours for KUSC is similar to what you’ve been reading here on this blog; I try to give a flavor of what it’s like to travel with a world-class orchestra and show a glimpse of what you don’t normally get to see behind the scenes.
What you don’t get to see behind the scenes is the great camaraderie of the musicians of the orchestra. Professional orchestras (not unlike a group of public radio hosts) are notorious for interpersonal dysfunction. Strong personalities clash, it’s a fact of life. While I don’t need to know that the musicians on stage get along to enjoy a concert, seeing that happen in real life is an intangible bonus.
What you don’t get to see behind the scenes is how much the LA Phil musicians love working with their music director, Gustavo Dudamel. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had - both on the record and off - with players in the LA Phil who tell me how lucky they feel to have Gustavo as music director. (By the way, to anyone who has met him, he is “Gustavo,” not “Maestro.”)
What you don’t get to see behind the scenes is how entirely approachable Dudamel is as a human being. After rehearsals he doesn’t immediately disappear to his dressing room. Instead, he makes himself available to answer any questions musicians might have for him. And he’s funny. During yesterday’s rehearsal of Mahler’s 4th Symphony he had the orchestra cracking up at his self-deprecating account of his recent appearance on Sesame Street.
In 2008, when Dudamel was announced as the LA Phil’s next music director, I knew it wouldn’t be long before he would take the orchestra on tour to Venezuela. Two-and-a-half seasons in and here we are. This particular moment for the orchestra is important not because the Venezuelan conductor is bringing his “LA family” to his home country. This tour transcends that happy fact. As I see it, the LA Phil’s visit to Venezuela is important for three big reasons:
1. To give high-quality performances. That’s always the initial goal.
2. To work with the immensely gifted children of El Sistema in a musical and cultural exchange of ideas.
3. To show other ensembles that it can be done. It’s been more than 25 years since an orchestra the caliber of the LA Phil has been to Venezuela. Caracas is a notoriously crime-laden city. It’s a risk coming here. But a risk that so far seems to be paying off for the LA Phil. This is an incredibly musical country. Audiences here are smart, respectful and have been ecstatic to hear the performances.
So much more lies ahead for the LA Phil the rest of this week. More concerts, more one-on-one interaction with kids in El Sistema. But already the orchestra’s staff and its incredible musicians have accomplished so much. I think they deserve a standing ovation.
Brian Lauritzen is the host and producer of Classical KUSC’s nationally syndicated broadcasts of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. You can read more of his reporting from Caracas on the KUSC blog.