Why have I left it to the last minute to listen to the repeat broadcast of Gustavo Dudamel's Prom ? Dudamel was the triumphant sensation of the 2007 Prom season. It was the hottest ticket in town, and I had a freebie but I passed it on to someone else who had no preconception at all. Again why ? I first heard Dudamel when he won the conducting contest at Bamberg in 2004 . That was the first year the competition was held so it wasn't as well established as it is now. Dudamel was good and deserved to win. But almost immediately he was taken up by big recording companies and marketed like the Messiah. He appeared at the Proms in 2005 and 2006 and was received well enough, but with nothing like the hysteria that greeted the 2007 Prom, when he conducted the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra. The Venezuelan "sistema" is a brilliant idea and deserves support. And of course they were fun to hear, with their enthusiasm. But separate that emotional clout from actual artistic achievement.....That's why I chickened out. Not to worship Dudamel is now a crime. But if I'm less than enthused, it's not because I don't like him. On the contrary, I care enough to worry about what the adulation might lead to.
My concerns may be esoteric but they're still valid. The media does influence how we judge things, and shape what we think, like it or not. There's nothing at all wrong with having a good time and being excited, but just as junk food gives a quick high, it's not long term nutrition. Showmanship for its own sake is all very well but that's not all there is to good music. A few Big Macs will not kill you, but getting into a habit will. The danger with "Dudamel effect" is that we'll become inured to "instant gratification" performance style. Perhaps I'm still upset about Gergiev's Mahler which blitzed London audiences earlier this year. I generally like Gergiev and actually know his Mahler from Rotterdam. The Barbican had the sense to bill the series as "Gergiev's Mahler" for Mahler's Mahler it sure wasn't. Again, why not ? No one needs to follow form, and it's better to think through things as new. But this was wilfully, crassly distorted : Mahler for people who hate the composer. Fun, yes, but not good for music in the long term. In the space of weeks, Gergiev set back Mahler practice by forty years. Indeed, the way dissenting views were suppressed upset me much more than anything - it was cynical and corrupt. (Not the Barbican, thank goodness - they had the sense to promote it with a veiled warning).
So this 2008 Dudamel Prom ? Potentially another rave - Ravel's Le Valse, the flamboyant Martin Frost and Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique which could wake the dead and have them dancing. Milk Berlioz too much and the deluge would be so great we'd drown. Instant cheese! To Dudamel's credit, he didn't. If anything this was understated and restrained, even the demonic sections. So what if it wasn't the heart-on-sleeve passion that people expect from Berlioz? There are many different types of passion and there's a lot more to Berlioz than cliché. There wasn't much insight in this fairly basic reading, but at least it shows Dudamel isn't swallowing the hype his PR machine is churning out. Which is more than can be said for Gergiev!
Here is a link to an article by Andrew Clark in the FT.