Ear Supply: The Dude Picks a Dud

A conducting star's big-screen stumble.

After the success, since 2007, of the Metropolitan Opera's satellite transmission of live performances into movie theaters worldwide, other organizations have done the same, airing plays, dance, and concerts. The Los Angeles Philharmonic  has also boarded this bandwagon, keen to milk the buzz surrounding its young conductor, Gustavo Dudamel, 30, a man of an energy and charisma—and an appeal to the coveted under-40 demographic—almost unequaled on the podium today. Acclaimed for making Latin music, in particular, explode off the stage, his most powerful recordings so far are of blockbusters by Beethoven and Mahler. He's an asset which will be inexplicably squandered in Sunday's broadcast, however, as the symphony the Dude chose to introduce himself to the world via the big screen is none of those, but one of the most drab and platitudinous in the standard repertory: Mendelssohn's Third. The perky second movement has its moments (Woody Allen used it charmingly in A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy), but the other 35 minutes of the piece will do nothing to show off the virtuosity of the players (the orchestration evokes the entire spectrum of color from slate to charcoal), much less of Dudamel himself. Mendelssohn dedicated the 1842 symphony to Queen Victoria, which makes sense once you hear its stuffy, dour, well-bred disdain for doing anything so vulgar as holding your attention. I don't get it. If you wanted to ensure that any classical-music newbie who might be lured to the moviehouse to see Dudamel would be put to sleep and then vow never to come back, you couldn't pick a better piece. Violinist Janine Jansen plays the same composer's catchy violin concerto before intermission, at least. But if you really want to hear what Dudamel and the Phil can do, wait until they broadcast Mahler's immense, overwhelming Eighth on February 18. 

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