Thursday, September 24, 2009

Dudamel: The Great Brown Hope

Aside from their musical brilliance, Esa-Pekka Salonen and Gustavo Dudamel would, on the surface, seem to have little in common. Salonen is the cool, cerebral Finn; Dudamel the hot, passionate Venezolano. But what they share is the experience of taking the reins of the Los Angeles Philharmonic at outrageously young ages — and the challenges that come with the prestigious appointment.

Salonen was 34 when he took over in 1992; Dudamel is — good grief — 28 as he grabs the Philharmonic’s baton. They were both shrewd choices, perfect fits for the culture of youth that has long defined Los Angeles. But the Philharmonic is betting on Dudamel to do more than lower the average age of the orchestra’s patrons — a big enough challenge in itself.

The Dude is the Great Brown Hope in the biggest, brownest metropolis north of Mexico City. The question is whether Dudamel can turn L.A.’s Latino population — particularly its vast middle class — into symphonygoers. There are already signs of a new approach: The city is blanketed with bilingual billboards and bus-bench ads, and the Philharmonic’s Web site now features a tour of Walt Disney Concert Hall in Spanish.

“Our goal is to engage [Latinos] and create awareness of the L.A. Philharmonic,” says Shana Mathur, vice president of marketing and communications for the orchestra. “Gustavo is the greatest vehicle for developing that relationship. Even if he wasn’t here, as an organization we would have to come to this point. Any arts organization, regardless of programming content, needs to start thinking of this population — how we address and talk to Latinos.”

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