Music directors lead New York and Los Angeles philharmonics on similar paths

Music directors lead New York and Los Angeles philharmonics on similar paths

By Anne Midgette

Washington Post Staff Writer

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Last year, the New York Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Philharmonic both introduced new, young music directors, Alan Gilbert and Gustavo Dudamel, who were going to bring a new face to their respective organizations. This year, as if to emphasize the similarities, both orchestras held their news conferences for their 2010-11 seasons last week at nearly the same time.

It’s easy to see them as a comparison between tradition and the new: between the “old money” of the august New York Phil and the funky arriviste of the orchestra in L.A., which (even before Dudamel) had established its hip quotient with Esa-Pekka Salonen and the spectacular Disney Hall.

Now, though, both orchestras are moving on parallel tracks in what appear to be attempts to put their money where their mouths are in terms of bringing each organization into a more active role in the life of its city — and into the 21st century. It’s fair to say that the New York Philharmonic has farther to travel to attain this goal.

There are certainly marked similarities between the two seasons. Salonen will conduct two weeks in Los Angeles and three in New York (where he will lead a mini-festival called Hungarian Echoes); in both New York and L.A., he will conduct Bartok’s “Bluebeard’s Castle” in a video/staged production. British composer Thomas Ades is curating five programs in L.A. for a festival called “Aspects of Ades,” which will include both orchestral and chamber concerts; while in New York, Gilbert will conduct his piece “In Seven Days,” written to celebrate new halls in Los Angeles and London.

Both orchestras have contemporary music festivals, though L.A.’s “Green Umbrella” series is more extensive than New York’s “Contact.” Both orchestras are going to Europe; the New York Philharmonic is going twice. Some of these moves are simply part of the way that a certain kind of forward-thinking musical institution reaches out to audiences; the programming wouldn’t be out of place at Carnegie Hall.

The biggest differences lie in the way that each season reflects its music director. Gilbert has, from the start, clearly had big plans for the Philharmonic and is actively implementing them and putting his stamp on the place. He launched the “Contact” series, brought in Magnus Lindberg as composer-in-residence (new works by Lindberg and Aaron Jay Kernis are on the program), and is clearly pushing for more multimedia and staged opera.

Gilbert is also keeping up the bread-and-butter fare: Mahler’s 5th and 6th Symphonies and Mendelssohn’s Elijah are other 2010-11 highlights, reflecting a certain conservatism present in his musical approach.

Dudamel is a musical animal, with ineffable star power. While I imagine that he welcomes what is going on in L.A.’s lavish cornucopia of a season, I doubt he initiated much of it. Deborah Borda, the orchestra’s president and chief executive, is the stronger voice presenting it in the press release. There’s nothing wrong with that: Not every conductor wants to be the main idea man, and there are plenty of exciting ideas flying around Los Angeles (nine world premieres; the position of “creative chair for jazz,” filled by Herbie Hancock; Baroque orchestras). It’s perhaps less expected that Dudamel projects a certain conservatism, as well. He’s a brilliant conductor, but not a break-the-rules one, though his tremendous charisma sometimes makes it look as though he were more of a wild child than he is.

complete article here.

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