Conducting prodigy to make Proms debut at 24
Venezuelan follows in steps of Rattle and Harding
Charlotte Higgins, arts correspondent
Thursday August 4, 2005
When Gustavo Dudamel, 24, ascends the podium at the Royal Albert Hall in London tomorrow night, only two conductors will have made a younger BBC Proms debut.
Since those prodigies were Sir Simon Rattle and Daniel Harding, each aged 21 at the time, he has high standards to live up to.
Dudamel is unknown outside his native Venezuela, where he conducts a youth orchestra, and he is stepping in at the last minute to replace the great Neeme Järvi, who is indisposed.
The invitation came "very suddenly two weeks ago", says Dudamel. He has had several rehearsals with the orchestra, which he describes as "fabulous, with a very nice energy and a real disposition to work".
Seemingly unfazed by the prospect of the energetic atmosphere of the Proms and a potential 6,000-strong crowd, he was excited at the prospect of his appearance at the high-profile orchestral festival.
And tonight he will also conduct the orchestra in the Symphony Hall, Birmingham.
Venezuela may seem like an unlikely homeland for a young conductor tipped by Bogdan Roscic, head of A&R at Deutsche Grammophon (with which he has just signed a recording contract), to become a "dominant figure over the next 30 years".
Venezuela has been funding music education with the goal, according to Xavier Moreno, the secretary of the state foundation for youth orchestras, not to create professional musicians, but to "rescue the children", in a country of 22m where three in four live in poverty.
Nevertheless, Venezuela is producing musicians of the highest standard; three years ago Sir Simon recruited the youngest-ever member of the Berlin Philharmonic when Edicson Ruiz, then aged 17, joined the orchestra's bass section.
Sir Simon has taken the unusual step of visiting to conduct Dudamel's orchestra, the Simón Bolívar National Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, and has called the country's education programme "the most important thing happening in music anywhere in the world".
According to Dudamel: "Music changed my life. I can look back now and see that many of the boys from my class went on to become involved in drugs and crime. Those who played music did not."
He is unlikely to remain obscure for long. Last time he was in London, he was on a young conductors' scheme, mentored by Christoph von Dohnányi, principal conductor of the Philharmonia. "As soon as he started rehearsing the orchestra, there was a buzz," said a Philharmonia spokeswoman. "David Whelton, the managing director, was at once phoned by several players, who said that we needed to book this guy as a conductor in his own right. This is extraordinarily unusual."
He stepped in at the last minute for a Beethoven concert with the orchestra in Bonn which was "a spectacular success". He has been booked for several concerts early next year. "In my 18 years as managing director of the Philharmonia, I have rarely seen a conductor forge such an immediate and powerful connection with the players," said Whelton.
Word of Dudamel's talent has spread since he won last year's Bamberg Symphony Orchestra conducting competition. Stephen Maddock, head of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, has engaged him for a concert next year on the strength of a "very impressive" DVD and strong recommendations. He is also due to conduct the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the Israel Philharmonic.
Special report: Proms 2005
Proms events by week
Beginner's guide to the Proms
Printable version | Send it to a friend | Save story