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The Bolivar Youth Orchestra, a Force to be Reckoned With, by Anne Midgette

In addition: Robert Battey, one of the Post's regular critics, attended the 4 p.m. rehearsal, which was opened up to the public after the evening concert sold out. He made a few observations after watching Dudamel in rehearsal (they rehearsed "Rite of Spring" only):

"No two ways about it; the kid is a conducting animal. He led the rehearsal without score, in complete security. In the "Danse sacrale," he had all the meter changes so internalized that he could call out random instructions while executing them. I've never seen anyone who was able to do that...

"He tends to look for, and then have his players emphasize, the most bizarre or grotesque elements in the piece... His easy rapport with the orchestra made for surprisingly efficient use of time. Although the group was young and very large, there was good concentration. Individual errors were pointed out quickly and with sympathetic humor, and in the few cases where the execution was still weak, there was no judgment or irritation.

"His hands are simply amazing. The baton's upbeat conveys complete details about the attack he is seeking; the left hand shapes the music with great expressivity, but also remains still when not needed.

"He is a phenomenon, and is getting better each time I see him."

One commenter to this blog posted his own view of the concert in the comments section of this post.

And for those who don't remember the story of Dudamel and El Sistema, the remarkable youth training program in Venezuela that spawned him and the orchestra, I outlined it in this article I wrote about him before he came with the Israel Philharmonic last November.

Edited to add: Here's Tim Smith on Dudamel in the Baltimore Sun.

Other thoughts on Dudamel, and the tremendous excitement and, perhaps, hype surrounding this orchestra?

By Anne Midgette  |  April 8, 2009; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  local reviews  
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Next: In Performance: Local News and Reviews


We attended the Friday 4pm rehearsal. It was great fun, even though only one piece was practiced.

The 3 young children (perhaps 5 or 6 years old - with one brave young mother) seated in front of us really loved 1 1/2 hours of "The Rites of Spring"! Every time there was a loud section, they leaned forward to get a better view. What a shame that our schools rarely, if ever, offer any exposure to classical music.

The whole rehearsal, the conductor, the orchestra was a tribute to youth and energy. Viva!

Posted by: BethesdaFan | April 8, 2009 9:14 AM | Report abuse

I thoght your review of the concert captured the wonder of the playing and atmosphere in the hall without neglecting its limitations. I was thrilled by the speed and energy with which the Bolivars tackled tricky rythmns and crescendi, but found my mind wandering during the first half of Part 2 of the Rite. I love hearing teenage girls screem at a classical cocnert! Interestingly, Andrew MacGregor, on BBC 3's CD Review, pretty much panned the Bolivars' new recording of the Tchaikovsky 5th, pointing out the limits of even the most accomplished youth orchestra.

Posted by: petercapitolhill | April 8, 2009 9:57 AM | Report abuse

Good Day Ann,

Enjoyed your review of Dudamel and SBYOV. I loved the concert. The energy and talent was noteworthy. I made a comment about it somewhere on this blog of yours BUT am finding this blog to be a bit difficult to navigate. I think there may be too many places to go. I also wrote a brief note on my blog when I got home from the concert Monday night. Check it out when you have a minute and let me know what you think.



Posted by: davidengel58 | April 8, 2009 10:43 AM | Report abuse

Ms. Midgette,
Thank you for your insightful review. Dudamel and his orchestra are a phenomenon, but one that also needs to be looked at with a critical intelligence such as yours. Now can you take a step down and please come to Los Angeles and write for the LA Times? Our local critic is no match for Dudamel. As Dudamania descends in force on Los Angeles, we need someone like you with a clear head to guide us through it.

Posted by: rdiaz1 | April 8, 2009 4:54 PM | Report abuse

I am furious that I missed out on this. I luuuuuuuuhve him.

Posted by: ianw2 | April 8, 2009 5:50 PM | Report abuse

Well, I can tell you firsthand that the concert was recorded and...if someone can pony up the $15,000 fee that that the Kennedy Center charges to broadcast anything from there...the SMYOV concert might show up on the radio somewhere.

I attended both the afternoon rehearsal and the evening performance and was amazed at the caliber of talent on display. These kids have some serious game! I should think they and Dudamel are looking at stellar futures.

I disagree with the assessment that the performance flagged during the second half of the least any more so than is written in the score. (How can anything that follows that raucous first part seem other than tame?) This was one of the most exciting overall symphonic performances I have heard in quite some time...and I hear a *lot* of them.

I look forward to Dudamel's return with the LA Philharmonic in the near future (as announced by Neale Perl before this concert). That performance will demonstrate how his motivational skills and technical prowess translate to another, less cozy orchestral situation. I have high hopes.

Posted by: clawson1 | April 8, 2009 11:41 PM | Report abuse

Just got back from the supposed Kristian Zimerman concert. I had heard that he might not be well. That he might miss the concert. When I arrived and the brochure did not include a program I feared the worst. My intuition was correct. When Neale Perl came out and mentioned that he had good news and bad I was initially disappointed. Then he announced that Marc Andre Hamelin would be playing in Zimerman's place. I was thrilled. While I would've loved to have heard Kristian, listening to Hamelin whose playing I am quite fond of, was not a problem. I did see a couple people leave. I know that there were some not familiar with Hamelin. That WPAS was able to score this brilliant pianist in 24 hours or so was a brilliant coup. And Hamelin looked tired. He played beautifully though amidst this odd dynamic. I think to some degree he was in an unenviable position. The runners up. The audience also often sounded like a TB ward, and someone's phone went off etc... The program:

Haydn - Sonata in B minor
Schumann - Fantasie in C Major


Faure - Barcarolle No. 3, Op. 42
Debussy Preludes Deuxieme Livre (Excerpts)

Then two particularly charming encores. The first a take on a La Valse like French song transcribed by Alexis Weissenberg. The second a beautiful piece Hamelin had written. I think the performance improved as the evening went along. Sadly I was very distracted throughout. For me the encores were the best part of the night.

David Engel

Posted by: davidengel58 | April 9, 2009 12:08 AM | Report abuse

WPAS subscribers were fortunate indeed to have have the pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin to "jump in" for the indisposed Kristian Zimerman (NYC had to settle for Vladimir Feltsman). Audiences all over the world cram the left side of auditoriums to catch a glimpse of Hamelin's miraculous hands at work. Yet Hamelin is a cerebral, introspective, and almost introverted artist who has to be coaxed into demonstrating his unmatched virtuosity. Yes, he tore fearlessly into the "unplayable" finale of the Second Movement of the Schumann, but his real musicianship was demonstrated in his nuanced and probing exposition of the final movement. Bored audiences usually squirm during this ruminative movement, but the WPAS audience seemed mesmerized. Kudos to all concerned!

Posted by: Leser29 | April 10, 2009 2:17 PM | Report abuse

I am going to weigh in here on what I have noticed about all of your reviews so far. I can't think of one review you have written in which you DIDN'T have anything NEGATIVE to say, which really strikes me as odd. I keep reading your reviews in hopes that you can finally write one that is 100-percent positive, but that hasn't happened yet. When I read your reviews, sometimes I even wonder - does this person even really enjoy classical music? Some of your reviews really do give the perception that you just don't enjoy either the music or the performers.

What particularly struck me recently was your review of the Simon Bolivar Orchestra. While in general it appeared to be positive, you managed to weave in some back-handed comments, such as
"the orchestra is like a cult." Really? A cult. Let's see - the Charles Manson family was a cult. Even some religious groups can be said to be cults (you know, like the "Moonies."). Cult implies that a group and its members have been brain-washed. Do you really think the members of this orchestra have been brain-washed?? Maybe a better choice of wording would have been "the Orchestra has become a phenomenon."

Then, in your closing paragraph of the review you manage to get a few digs in with references of their "schtick", and feigning a philisophical question about "where does all this excitement lead to." It's as if your approach to music criticism dictates at least 1 or 2 negative comments at a minimum per review, regardless of the music and/or performer(s). But, what really made your review such a poor review was not what you said, but what you failed to say. Your focus on the orchestra's cult status and the obvious energy and charisma Maestro Dudamel brings to his orchestra is easy to write about. How about some history of the orchestra, the El Sistema and it's players? How about what this Orchestra's existence means to the people of Venezuela and to the arts and society of the world in general? How about telling the readers that, in a poor country such as Venezuela, they have managed to implement such a comprehensive musical-training program which has literally saved lives. This program and orchestra is the world's role model for what believing in the power of music can produce.

You failed to put this performance from this orchestra in its proper context. To simply focus on the obvious, the trite, and then to top it off with some back-handed condescending comments really misses the entire point. I recommend that you go rent
The Promise of Music: Gustavo Dudamel. If you have seen it, I wouldn't have known that from your review.

Posted by: bobinRockville | April 13, 2009 6:39 PM | Report abuse

bobinRockville: Since I'd so recently written about El Sistema in the Post, it's true I chose not to revisit that ground in this review. Here are two pieces I did when Dudamel made his DC debut in November that cover some of the territory that you missed seeing here.

Posted by: MidgetteA | April 15, 2009 12:29 PM | Report abuse

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