Critic Dispenses with Actually Attending Concert

Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic recently made a tour of the country and many of the reviews were mixed in their reception of the orchestra, and of their conductor, Gustavo Dudamel. It seems that all critics want to discuss any more is Gustavo Dudamel, apparently even those critics who didn't actually review one of his concerts. But since his midi-chlorian counts are so high, and he is presumably the chosen one, this has caused quite the ruckus in the Arts & Leisure sections of newspapers around the country.

After some Southern California critics defended Dudamel against the attacks, Arthur Kaptainis, of The Montreal Gazette, decided to weigh in on the subject himself.

When west meets east, an orchestra stumbles

And an angel gets his wings?

[Subtitle] Tepid reviews of Los Angeles Philharmonic tour knock Dudamel off the podium as world's hottest conductor

I'm not sure everyone thought he was that hot. I mean he's cute and everything, but he's not Brad Pitt hot.

figure dudamel: Scored an 8.6 on hotornot.com.

It is not official.

Well, not until next month's meeting of the Conductors Hotness Association (CHA), but let's speculate anyway, shall we?

It could not be. But the case at least can be made that Gustavo Dudamel -he of the 29-year-old curly tresses, boundless Venezuelan energy and even more boundless American media attention -is no longer the hottest classical property in the world.

Well, that's not really fair, downtown LA has never been the place of prime real estate like the coasts.

figure more dudamel: Dudamel and his boundless Venezuelan energy.

Not after he led his Los Angeles Philharmonic on an eight-city American tour and got the critical equivalent of a smattering of applause and a slow shuffle to the exits.

They danced towards the exits? Applause and dancing -- sounds like a good concert to me.

So tepid and qualified were the reviews Dudamel collected that a Los Angeles Times media commentator this week devoted a hefty column to an analysis of the reaction.

That article:
On the Media: Are Gustavo Dudamel critics showing their East Coast bias?

East Coast snobbery? Anti-L. A. bias? Hype-machine blowback?

Apparently, the LA Phil are the USC Trojans of major metropolitan symphony orchestras.

The only possibility not given serious consideration is that the concerts (many featuring what commentators described as ill-conceived and sloppily realized performances of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 Pathethique) were, in fact, bad and accurately described as such.

Wait, what concert are you reviewing again?

Not that the blowback and East-Coast-snobbery theories can be discounted.

Sure they can...and I bet you can show us how. Why don't you give it try, just for us? Please?

I am myself an East Coast snob who taught himself a long time ago to view the Los Angeles Philharmonic as a substratospheric orchestra...

See, you're doing fabulously. They orchestra has always sort of sucked. And...

...comprising players who were not necessarily the best in town (those being the musicians employed by the movie industry).

Yeah, but how serious could those musicians be, since they're required to play so many different styles of music. To have many styles as a musician, is really to have no style at all.

Even the rationale usually evoked for giving the L.A. Phil a promotion to the top rung -its stylistic flexibility -can just as easily be used as a stick to beat it with.

Hmmm? Your ideas are intriguing...how would you fault an orchestra for it's ability to play all different kinds of classical music?

To have many styles as an orchestra is to have none.

Of course. That is a problem. Perhaps a committee should be formed to decide what kinds of music the LA Phil is allowed to perform and which kinds would be too stylistically flexible?

But this all a bit abstract, how about some anecdotal hearsay and clearly unbiased opinion?

When the flutist Mathieu Dufour last January chose to join the Chicago Symphony after an extended trial with the Philharmonic, he was quoted by the Chicago Sun-Times as saying the L.A. players "have no tradition there -no tradition of sound and no tradition of working together as a dedicated ensemble."

Ooh, this is a good point. Clearly this sounds like Dudamel's fault to me, seeing as it happened a full 9 months before he took over as musical director.

But of course, on the other hand, Mathieu Dufour is French.

The Frenchman promptly wrote a conciliatory mass email to ex-colleagues claiming he was "grossly misquoted," but it is hard to believe the writer of this interview (Andrew Patner, who stands by it) invented the comment.

So, if Patner's not lying, then Dufour is, right? And now you're now using the evidence of a person you're accusing of lying?

But of course, on the other hand, Mathieu Dufour is French.

Indeed, in another quotation, Dufour returns to the theme by predicting that the Philharmonic players "will have some exciting concerts there for sure as they go along."

That does sound pretty damning.

Also, what does this have to do with Dudamel?

All the same, Dufour claims that "in every rehearsal" he missed "what makes up the Chicago sound: the sense that every member of the CSO knows that you cannot ever go halfway and that every subtle detail is important."

But, to be fair, Dufour is French.

But back to Dudamel and the blowback theory.

Okay, back to Dudamel, who, while no bearing no responsibility for mediocre playing and half-assed approach of the orchestra, is to blame for the exciting, yet flawed performances?

It is true that heavy publicity (peaking with a 60 Minutes spot delicately titled Gustavo the Great) creates a huge target for traditionalists who regard culture, discipline and experience as more useful qualities on the podium than good looks, high voltage and an undefined Latin wow factor.

To be fair, he's also short and chunky.

Of course, Dudamel is more the victim than the author of this excess. He did not choose the nickname "Dude"...

The nickname chose him?

figure the dude: "Fuck sympathy! I don't need your fuckin' sympathy, man, I need my fucking johnson! "

...and probably had limited control over the use of his image.
In any case, the job of the critic is to set aside these irrelevancies and listen closely to the music.

Which is why you've brought them up here, and included unrelated stories about people who never played under Dudamel?

And, exactly how is this evidence supporting your thesis that there is no east coast bias at work in those negative reviews?

Which, by and large, the tour critics did.

And you're basing this opinion on...?

While there was one arguable case of East Coast snobbery -an article in New York Magazine titled Good Enough for Los Angeles -the bulk of the critiques, far from expressions of Schadenfreude, read like strenuous efforts to cooperate with the Dudamel publicity machine and find virtue in concerts that were not, even at the level of basic execution, very good.

Again, which concert did you attend?

And just for those keeping score at home, the way I show it, you've provided zero examples clearing any critic of east coast bias, but have freely admitted your own snobbery, and accused an article in New York Magazine of bias.

So it's...East Coast Snobbery 2, Fair Unbiased Reporting 0.

A revealing comparison can be drawn...

Good, it's about time for a revealing comparison.

...with Yannick Nezet-Seguin, who would probably be recognized (even at the advanced age of 35) as the Hottest Young Conductor in the World if the title had not been conferred by the machine to Dudamel.

figure nezet-seguin: Andy Roddick in his Yannick Nezet-Seguin Halloween costume.

I have never seen a negative review of a YNS live performance outside Montreal.

Let's prove we don't have an east coast bias, by making a comparison to an east coast conductor. Good call.

European critics, with no hype to confirm or contradict, are mostly in raptures.

So, it's not really a good comparison after all, since those European critics are not responding to hype, unlike the east coast critics who reviewed Dudamel, and, as you point out in this very article, have lots of hype to wade through.

With cause: The Rotterdam Philharmonic tour concerts in Montreal and Toronto were interpretively distinctive and technically as good as they could be.

Clearly, this was because they weren't conducted by Dudamel? Or was it because Dufour didn't not play with that orchestra?

Let us hope the producers of 60 Minutes do not notice.

Yes...let's hope...that.


Overhype is not unknown on the island of Montreal. It has not been so long since Big Brother posters of Kent Nagano peered from every bus stop. Or has it?

I don't know. Presumably you live there...are there posters of Kent Nagano staring at you at every bus stop?

figure nagano: Kent Nagano is watching you.

The Kentster...

Sorry, but "Dude" is a much better nickname.

...next September will enter the last year of a five-year contract.

It's like what Lenin said... you look for the person who will benefit, and, uh, uh...

One way of gauging his no-longer-newness is the fact that the month of May was essentially an exercise in self-reflection, even nostalgia, as the conductor returned to Beethoven (he opened his tenure in 2006 at Place des Arts with the Ninth Symphony).

Beethoven? Really? How original for a conductor to associate himself with Beethoven.

On Thursday, he concluded the season with Mahler's Ninth Symphony, the score he led to universal acclaim on his first appearance with the MSO in 1999.

That's nice. I like that symphony too, but what does this have to do with presumed east coast bias against Dudamel?


Kaptainis' comments may all prove to be valid, but it does seem disingenuous to pass judgement without having seen Dudamel in person yourself. And if he has seen him live, he really should have made that much more clear in the article. Also, some sort of evidence would be nice.


Sator Arepo said...

I guess it seems like a long way to go in the service of expressing some (undoubtedly justified) Dudamel-hype fatigue.

Schumann was a terrible orchestrator; the LA Phil sucks [corollary: no matter what]; atonal music is awful and nobody likes it.

Blah blah blah.

Sator Arepo said...

Also: The Dudamel abides?

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Tod Brody said...

I enjoy your site. In this piece, it should be pointed out that Mathieu Dufour did not leave the LA Phil to join the Chicago Symphony. He was already the principal flutist in Chicago, and had taken a leave from there after being offered the LA Phil position. He did, in fact, choose to return to Chicago, and did
utter the words attributed to him about the relative merits of the two groups.

Sator Arepo said...

Thanks, Tod. Accuracy *is* as important as humor. Probably.