A true phenomenon in every sense of the word, the Venezuelan orchestral director Gustavo Dudamel, born in Barquisimeto in 1981, entered the international scene in his early twenties. Having been selected to be the musical director of the Youth Orchestra Simón Bolívar in Caracas when he was merely eighteen years old, he gained a considerable head-start in terms of experience, turning him into Venezuela’s rock-star of classical music.
It all began in the underprivileged country of Venezuela, where Dudamel learnt the basics of music from his mother and father, who were a singing teacher and trombonist respectively. At six years old, he was able to sight read Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, and conduct an imaginary orchestra in front of his parents. He first played the violin when he was ten, thanks to the famous ‘El Sistema’ programme, which he was lucky enough to take part in. The scheme was founded in 1975, with the aim of getting children off the streets and putting them into orchestras, to help them escape the drugs and violence which are sadly widespread throughout Latin America. In this way hundreds of thousands of children found themselves holding a clarinet rather than a machine gun, a violin rather than a bag of glue to sniff… a very worthy enterprise which made its mark worldwide. The young artist’s outstanding talents, such as his impressive memory and charismatic leadership, quickly transported him to the best orchestral spheres worldwide. He also received a helping hand from Simon Rattle, who spotted him in 2003 and made him his assistant. Winning the ‘Gustav Mahler’ Conductor’s Competition the following year, Dudamel was supported and advised by Claudio Abbado and Daniel Barenboim.
From there everything progressed very quickly for the young conductor. From the Orchestra Bolivar, Dudamel passed to the Orchestre de Göteborg in Sweden, taking over from Neeme Järvi, finally making his debut at the Scala de Milan with Don Giovanni. At 28 years old he became Esa-Pekka Salonen’s successor as the head of the Philharmonic Orchestra of Los Angeles.
The experience Dudamel gained from the El Sistema social programme convinced him that accessing beauty can change someone’s life, and that art, as vital as food or strength, is not mere entertainment, but a language that can touch one’s heart. He also held dear what José Abreu, the founder and conductor, once taught him: ‘Musicians must feel like they can blindly trust you’. Following this maxim, Dudamel places a large emphasis on the preparation of his programmes. When asked about his expressive gestures while conducting, he replied that they are simply a sincere reflection of his emotions, which express themselves through music.
© Qobuz 2015
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