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Sonic Youth

Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center
12/05/2012 -  
Carlos Chávez: Sinfonía India
Julián Orbón: Tres versiones sinfónicas
Richard Strauss: Eine Alpensinfonie, Op. 64

Simón Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, Gustavo Dudamel (Music Director and Conductor)

(Courtesy of SBSOV)

Gustavo Dudamel is not a rock star but you wouldn’t know it by the reception he got in Verizon Hall in front of the inspiring Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela (SBSOV). After scaling the sonic heights of Richard Strauss’s Eine Alpensinfonie (An Alpine Symphony) the audience was pounding the rafters, whipping out Venezuelan flags to prod Dudamel for more.

The in-global-demand maestro Dudamel AKA “the Dude”, concurrent music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and SBSOV. His international fame was made conducting SBSOV’s roster of around 200 musicians age 18-28, the crème de la crème of the much admired El Sistema music program, which provides instruments and top training to students who would otherwise not be able to afford tuition, instruments and essentials for professional musical training.

Dudamel opened with Mexican composer-conductor Carlos Chávez’s 1935 piece Sinfonía India a work with an agitated orchestral drive that foreshadows John Adams, the musical scenes were borderless, with panoramic orchestral blooms that recalled Copland and wending Chinese string lines. The orchestra conjured the power of this piece giving it a cinematic luster, sometimes at the expense of detailing. Next, Cuban composer Julián Orbón’s Tres versiones sinfónicas proved more cohesive and the contrasting orchestral textures in each of the three movements were more crystallized and less intense. There seemed to be a bit of a reserve in both of these pieces even if you couldn’t put your finger on it. Then you found out maybe why.

Strauss’s Eine Alpensinfonie is a beast of a piece. Both symphonic tone poem describing an eleven-hour trek in the Alps. It is literal enough to have the instrumentation sound like MGM sound effects department and with goat bells, thunder, wind and orchestral vistas. But there are also continuous musical undercurrents that are foreshadowing, like Chávez’s piece, to more abstract symphonic innovations.

The Dude leaned heavily on the sonic luster, but there was thrilling drive in the symphonic narrative. The inner circle of violins, violas, cello handled the tempest of the mises-en-scenes with glittering clarity. Impossible to cite how fine many of these musicians played, but a standout is first violinist Alejandro Carreno maintaining seasoned tone and translucent accents. The center did not always hold. Before the famous Gewitter und Sturm, Abstieg (Thunder and Tempest, Descent), the players seemed heavy with the dense velocity of the piece, but outside of that this was a solid, if sweaty performance by the entire ensemble. The horns were no less than heroic (especially those off stage players) with the distanced galloping heralds and portents. The cascading harp fields (four of them) so metaphysically serene. The precision and fury of the bowing by the combined strings was on full and often, mighty play. The accumulated effect entranced the audience. The crescendos had enough sonic power to leave a vacuum afterward and Dudamel might rein that in, impressive as it is.

Afterward, on the fifth curtain call, with everyone on their feet, people were yelling out titles to Dudamel to play and he acknowledged that everyone may be exhausted after such a work, but then announced a piece by Wagner and it was the "Prelude" to Tristan and Isolde heavily draped and hammered out. Then he was game enough to play a second encore of a national song that Venezuelans were singing lustily and the country flags came proudly out.

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Lewis Whittington



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