It’s kinda weird to say in 2017 that I have a favorite conductor, but I have a favorite conductor. His name is Gustavo Dudamel, and he’s the conductor for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. If you live in Los Angeles, you’ve probably heard of him or seen his photo on lightpole banners around the city. I’ve seen him at the Hollywood Bowl, and next week I’m going to go see him conduct Schoenberg and Mozart at the Walt Disney Concert Hall.
I’m looking forward to it a lot, and not just because I get to cross off one of my L.A. to-do list and not just because I get to go with my grandma. Once I started college, I got more and more interested in learning about classical music appreciation, and I found that I really love that classical music tells stories without needing words.
If you’re wondering what a conductor does, the two main things they do are providing an interpretation of the music (believe it or not, there’s a lot of variation in different performances of the same piece) and leading the orchestra in both tempo and organization. There’s a lot I love about Dudamel, but to sum it up I find his charismatic, youthful and kinetic interpretations enthrall me. Plus, the sheer talents of the L.A. Philharmonic or the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela are both visual and aural treats. I feel extremely lucky that I have the chance to experience the art while it’s unfolding in front of us, and that as a culture we’ve preserved classical music. Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s not good or inspiring.
Whenever I need a creative boost, I always watch and listen to Gustavo Dudamel videos on YouTube. I have a few favorites that I want to share with you, and I have Opinions on all of them.
Dvořák’s “Symphony No. 9, 4th movement.”
Okay, so there are several things I really love about this video — which is just a tiny section from the Czech composer’s “From The New World” symphony performed for Pope Benedict XVI’s 80th birthday — that comes up in some of the first Dudamel hits on YouTube. First, this is a beautiful piece of music that I really enjoy listening to and without YouTube I never would have found it. It’s happy and sad and brave and anxious all at the same time.
Secondly, I love that you can tell Dudamel is so into it, and I greatly appreciate that — he channels the performance and becomes the physical embodiment of the piece. (My favorite moment is at 10:35. My heart drops.) Watching him is as emotional of an experience as listening to the music is, because you can tell that this man believes in the power of classical music with all of his being. Thirdly, the fact that after the piece is over that Dudamel goes and commends the members of the orchestra is a testament to his professionalism and his humility. And last but not least, I love that in the few frames you see him in, the pope seems so disinterested that it makes you want to laugh. Lemme just say — Francis would never.
Marquez’s “Danzón No. 2.”
Cuban, Mexican and other Latin-American contemporary music is supremely, supremely underrated in the corners of the mainstream music world I frequent, and I need to listen to more of it. I love this particular arrangement so much that I actually ripped the audio from this YouTube video and put it in my iTunes so that I could listen to it on my phone in the car and at work. Arturo Marquez is actually a contemporary composer from Mexico, and he premiered this piece in 1994. “Danzón No. 2” actually became popular because Dudamel included it on the programme for the 2007 Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela world tour. A recording performed by that group is what you’re watching here.
The fact that this piece is almost as old as me is incredible, because it defies the notion that good and entertaining classical music has to have centuries-old timestamps. It makes you want to get up and dance, or at the very least move your shoulders to the beat while watching it in bed (which is what I’m doing as I write this.) In the frames where you can see Dudamel, watch his hands — they’re mesmerizing. He is as youthful as his musicians and the piece itself, which elevates the entire performance.
Gershwin’s “An American in Paris.”
The Wikipedia page for the orchestral music says that George Gershwin wrote “An American in Paris” as a “symphonic poem.” That phrase is my new favorite two-word combo in the English language, because that’s so apt for what this is. Gershwin is one of my favorite composers because his music tells intricate stories without words, and it often leaves me feeling more buoyant. I often wonder what American music would look and sound like if we had his talent and creativity for much longer than we did. The orchestral composition came way before the movie, but if you haven’t seen An American in Paris you should slot that into your weekend plans. It’s very good, and the fact that they made the movie in 1951 is amazing.
Anyway, if you look up Gershwin’s music you’ll find that Leonard Bernstein’s recordings are considered the end-all, be-all, and I’m sure it was phenomenal to hear them conducted in-person. But I like Dudamel’s better, because I think it sounds fresher. Compare the two and tell me what you think.
Bernstein’s “Mambo” and Pérez-Prado’s “Mambos.”
I saved the best for last. I’m not 100 percent sure on what specific mambos this video showcases, but I know it’s both Dámaso Pérez Prado and Bernstein’s composition for West Side Story.
My favorite, favorite, favorite thing about this video is that the overall enthusiasm and joy of this music — from Dudamel, the orchestra and the audience — is infectious even on the other side of the computer screen. His smile when the musicians get up out of their chairs and the standing ovation from the crowd makes me believe that the world is beautiful and good and pure. Bookmark this video — and all the others, while you’re at it — for when you need a pick-me-up. You can thank me later.
Do you love Dudamel too, or have other similar music videos to share? Leave effusive praise + links in the comments.