By Robert D. Thomas
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News/
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/San Bernardino Sun
This article was first published today in the above papers.
Simón Bolivár Youth Orchestra of Venezuela; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
Walt Disney Concert Hall; Los Angeles
• Thursday, Nov. 1; 8 p.m.
Mahler: Symphony No. 5; Bernstein: Symphonic Dances from "West Side Story"
• Friday, Nov. 2; 8 p.m.
Beethoven: Symphony No. 5; selections by Latin American composers
UBS Vernier Festival Orchestra; Charles Dutoit, conductor
Thursday, Nov. 8; 8 p.m.Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique; Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 3 (Martha Argerich, soloist)
Info: www.laphil.com; 323/850-2000
There are at least three ways you can look at the appearances by the Simón Bolivár Youth Orchestra of Venezuela next Thursday and Friday evenings at Walt Disney Concerto Hall.
First, it's one of the world's premiere youth ensembles, good enough to have made two highly regarded recordings for the prestigious Deutsche Grammophon label. Mahler's Symphony No. 5, the second disc, will be played Thursday night. Beethoven's Symphony No. 5, part of the initial recording, will be on the Friday program.
A video clip of Mambo from Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story, which was played as an encore at a London Proms concert last summer, has achieved near-cult status; the musicians' talent and exuberance are infectious, especially in the usually staid world of classical music.
Second, the concerts will be led by the SBYOV's 26-year-old music director, Gustavo Dudamel, who will take over the helm of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in September 2009. Thus, these concerts are, in a sense, a glimpse into what might be the Phil's future. If you've read and heard about Dudamel's charisma, this should be a good chance to hear and listen to what it's all about.
Third, the SBYOV concerts are the midpoint of the Philharmonic's Youth Festival Orchestra Festival, which began with last Tuesday's performance by the Sibelius Academy Symphony Orchestra and continues on Nov. 8 with the UBS Verbier Festival Orchestra, conducted by veteran Swiss maestro Charles Dutoit.
The Swiss ensemble's program is slated to be Berlioz' "Symphonie Fantastique and Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3, with Martha Argerich as soloist. I say "slated" because Argerich, in addition to being one of the world's great pianists, has an unhappy penchant for canceling performances. If she shows up, it's a "must-see" concert.
There are also several free community concerts by ensembles from the SBYOV at locations throughout Southern California (details are HERE).
However, when we look back on this unusual festival (occasioned by the Philharmonic's European tour over the next three weeks), the LAPO hopes that the most indelible facet will be what happens in Southern California regarding youth orchestras and music education.
The Sibelius Academy and Venezuela's La Sistema (with the SBYOV as its crowning glory) are two prime examples of great music education programs. The Finnish academy is part of that country's school system while the Venezuelan program operates, in effect, as an after-school program. Both have been highly successful for decades and the Philharmonic hopes to take the best of both programs and enhance its own efforts in Southern California.
Monday an all-day symposium at Disney Hall (DETAILS) will explore some of these possibilities (if interested, you can register online HERE) and the final event of the LAPO Youth Festival, on Nov. 11, will feature several Los Angeles-area youth orchestras.
Will anything other than the concerts come out of all this? One can only hope. Those of us age 60 and above can remember what we learned through music education in the schools, although whether we as the recipients of those programs have done enough in the political process and at the ballot box to keep the flame alive is a question that will haunt us for a long time.
The Pasadena Symphony and Pasadena Pops operate extensive music educations programs in that city's schools and groups such as the Los Angeles Children's Chorus and American Youth Symphony touch hundreds of kids, but they can't replace system-wide education efforts.
Perhaps, great things will emerge -- I hope so. However, if nothing else, the music will be worth the trip to downtown L.A.
(c) Copyright 2007, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.