“The evening is likely to go down as the coolest conducting debut in the history of the orchestra,” wrote the critic of the Tagesspiegel after the Waldbühne concert in June 2008. The man whose debut was described in such glowing terms was the then 27-year-old Venezuelan Gustavo Dudamel who delighted press and public alike with a Spanish-South American programme. Even when he conducted the Berliner Philharmoniker for the first time that evening, he was no stranger to the musicians. An alumnus of “El Sistema”, Venezuela’s now world famous musical education programme, he had already made an appearance in Berlin at the invitation of the orchestra with the Venezuelan youth symphony orchestra, plus he had already participated in an Orchestra Academy project and a concert with members of the Philharmoniker.
Ten years have passed since Dudamel’s spectacular debut, and the career of the young Latin American conductor has skyrocketed. He is currently music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and a coveted guest of major international orchestras. He is also to be found conducting the Berliner Philharmoniker, both often and regularly.
Intoxicating style of music making
Dudamel has come to Berlin almost every year for the past ten years, often conducting two programmes per season and offering a wide artistic repertoire: whether with works by Russian or French composers, whether Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Wagner, Mahler or New music, he always impresses audiences with his electrifying, energetic style of music making. Over the years, a deep bond has developed between the Philharmoniker and the conductor. In an interview for the Digital Concert Hall, Dudamel said enthusiastically: “It’s not just a virtuosic orchestra that can play notes easily, it understands the essence of a composer. What we call tradition, the sense of knowing, when to take breath, when a phrase needs more time – the orchestra gets that, instinctively.”
With the Philharmoniker in Asia for the first time
The orchestra often invites him to conduct concert events which attract a lot of media attention: the 2008 Waldbühne concert was followed by the New Year’s Eve concert, the 2012 European concert in Vienna and two more Waldbühne concerts in 2014 and 2017. In the latter, in addition to music by Richard Wagner, Robert Schumann’s Rhenish Symphony was also on the programme. “Fluid tempi, luscious entries – Dudamel brings to life the euphoria that Schumann captured at the time of its composition,” as they said in rbb’s Inforadio discussion of the concert. This season, the collaboration will see another highlight: Dudamel not only conducts two concert programmes in Berlin at the end of October featuring works by Leonard Bernstein, Gustav Mahler and Dmitri Shostakovich, but he will also accompany the orchestra on its major tour to Thailand, Taiwan and China in November 2018. The fact that the orchestra selected him to join it on its tour during its time without a chief conductor is further evidence of their mutual appreciation.