When we walked into the concert hall, the stage was all activity -- setting up, chatting, stretching. It was the largest orchestra I'd seen in a while, made larger by the sheer activity, which you would never see in context of the true concert. (The program listed close to 200 names, including my favorites, Elvis on the French horn and Galaxia on the harp.)
Then Gustavo Dudamel walked out, to great applause. He was casually dressed, wearing a pullover sweater that let us see the strength and beauty and effort of his shoulders and back when he conducted. He began by talking to us directly about the happiness and privilege of returning to conduct here in My Fair District of 97% Obama. He mentioned the program of Ravel, Castellanos, and Stravinsky and a few other things. And then it was all Rite all the time.
I'm not the kind of listener who can provide a knowledgeable rundown of the musical treatment and authenticity of The Rite of Spring. I can tell you that the orchestra conjured Nijinsky and made us see both the modernity and the primitivity of the work. Actually, Dudamel himself conjured Nijinsky with his conducting style, even leaping into the air at one point.
The orchestra played each part through, with Dudamel drilling them on certain passages over and over at the end, which often had to do with complex percussion or pizzicato or overlapping rhythms. During these drills, he talked directly to the orchestra in Spanish, so we couldn't understand even the little that we could overhear. And I was sorry. And then I wasn't sorry, thinking that maybe it was best this way, the same way that praying in Hebrew, where you don't always understand what you're asking for, seems more profound and spiritual.
The Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela is part of a great larger musical initiative focused on helping children and teens living below the poverty line. The child and youth orchestras throughout the country give over 250,000 children the idea and support and knowledge for a better life. I cannot think of any similar initiatives in the United States, where sports and the military seem to be the acknowledged ways out of poverty.
Maybe Gustavo Dudamel can rekindle a love of classical music and a recollection of the importance of the arts as both standard of living and quality of life. I remember going to the zoo once baby pandas had arrived and being amazed at how active and unpanda-like they were. It took me a while to realize that all those earlier years of geriatric pandas had given me the wrong idea and now I was seeing the real thing. Here's to Dudamel.