By Robert D. Thomas
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
Los Angeles Philharmonic; Manuel López, conductor
Wednesday, September 29, 2010 • Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts
Next concert: Sunday, Oct. 3 • Levitt Pavilion, MacArthur Park
One of the lesser-publicized aspects of Gustavo Dudamel’s tenure as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic has been the establishment of the Dudamel Fellowship Program for young conductors. Wednesday night, 26-year-old Manuel López, one of four young conductors in this year’s program, made an impressive debut leading the LAPO’s first free neighborhood concert of the season at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.
Like Dudamel, López is a product of Venezuela’s legendary “El Sistema” music system. He served as concertmaster for four years of the Youth Orchestra of Caracas under Dudamel’s baton and was concertmaster for the Simón Bolivár Youth Symphony Orchestra when it made tours of the U.S., Europe and South America under Dudamel’s leadership.
Although there were similarities in music making between Dudamel and his protégé, López staked out his own identity last night. Lopez, who seems taller than his compatriot, conducted the entire program memory. He exuded muscular athleticism and emphatic cues throughout the evening, which began with three short works that will be played during the Phil’s gala opening concert on Thursday at Walt Disney Concert Hall.
In fact, the entire program was a shakeout of sorts. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, which concluded the evening, will show up in the first January 2011 concerts and will also be played on the Phil’s European tour that month. Moreover, last night program — 80 minutes of music, played without an intermission — was approximately the length of Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalîla-symphonie that will be played four consecutive nights beginning Oct. 14 at Disney Hall.
It was the Phil’s first time on stage in three weeks and some rust peeked through occasionally. Moreover, Lopez’s tight control over the proceedings meant that the first three pieces — Moncayo’s Huapango and Rossini’s overtures to La gazza ladra (The Thieving Magpie) and Semiramide — lacked that touch of impetuosity that make them sparkle just that little extra bit to be special.
López’s treated Beethoven’s seventh symphony as almost two different works. The first two movements were almost rigid in their classicism. The opening “Poco sostenuto; Vivace” began with a stately pace only to lose a fraction of the tension towards the end, while the “Allegretto” began urgently and held that pace more firmly.
Beginning with the “Presto” third movement, Lopez varied tempos throughout and the fourth movement really emphasized the “con brio” in the “Allegro con brio” title. It wasn’t as fast as Dudamel took the movement in his recording with the Simón Bolivár Youth Symphony Orchestra but it was close enough; when Dudamel dusts off the work in rehearsals after January 1, the fourth movement tempos won’t cause heart failure among the musicians.
Prior to coming to Los Angeles, López was a finalist in two major international conducting competitions. He is clearly a talent to keep track of, not only during this season but in years to come, as well. You can catch him again when he conducts an LAPO wind and brass ensemble in another free concert on Sunday at 4 p.m. at the Levitt Pavilion in MacArthur Park in Los Angeles’s Westlake area.
(c) Copyright 2010, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.