The City and the Symphony
When Gustavo Dudamel made his U.S. debut conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl in September 2005, he had already established his musical credentials with formidable orchestras elsewhere, including the Philharmonia, Gothenburg Symphony and Israel Philharmonic Orchestras, as well as on tour with his beloved Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela to halls across the European and South American continent. His success at the Hollywood Bowl had been immediate and overwhelming with audience, press, and the musicians of the orchestra. Subsequent concerts of demanding repertory with the orchestra at Walt Disney Concert Hall (his DG Concerts recording of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra is a souvenir of those January 2007 performances) confirmed his rapport with the players and his charismatic power with audiences. In April 2007 Dudamel was appointed Music Director of the Philharmonic, succeeding Esa-Pekka Salonen in October 2009.
Dudamel’s presence in the city has seemed to grow organically. Even hanging banners with his image became media events. When tickets for a free community “¡Bienvenido Gustavo!” concert at the Hollywood Bowl on October 3 became available, they disappeared in little more than an hour, and that became yet another passionately blogged news item.
The development of these themes reached a climax with this inaugural gala concert on October 8. Everything about it indicated unprecedented levels of interest and attention, including the cameras following backstage action for the documentary accompanying the concert program on this disc. (The documentary takes a behind-the-scenes look at Dudamel’s first week as Music Director of the Philharmonic.) This concert was simulcast on the plaza of the Music Center complex in Los Angeles, televised internationally, and a recording of Mahler’s Symphony no. 1 from it has been released as a digital download in the DG Concerts series.
The concert itself began with the world premiere of City Noir by John Adams, which was commissioned for this event. Dudamel’s first appoint- ment of his own was to name Adams to the new position of Creative Chair for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Adams has a long and productive history with the orchestra, including the world premiere and recording of a structurally similar work, Naive and Sentimental Music. Dedicated to Los Angeles Philharmonic President Deborah Borda “in celebration of a long friendship,” City Noir is the final panel in a triptych of orchestral works that “have as their theme the California experience, its landscape, and its culture,” Adams says. The other two are El Dorado (commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony) and The Dharma at Big Sur (a violin concerto commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic for one of the Walt Disney Concert Hall inaugural galas in 2003).
Adams found a suggestion for City Noir in his reading of the “Dream” books by Kevin Starr, particularly the “Black Dahlia” chapter of Embattled Dreams, which covers the sensational journalism and film noir of the late 1940s and early ’50s. “Those images and their surrounding aura whetted my appetite for an orchestral work that, while not necessarily referring to the soundtracks of those films, might nevertheless evoke a similar mood and feeling tone of the era,” Adams writes. “I was also stimulated by the notion that there indeed exists a bona fide genre of jazz-inflected symphonic music, a fundamentally American orchestral style and tradition that goes as back as far as the early 1920s (although, truth to tell, it was a Frenchman, Darius Milhaud, who was the first to realize its potential with his 1923 ballet La Création du monde, a year before Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue premiered in New York).”
“The music of City Noir is in the form of a 30-minute symphony. The formal and expressive weight of its three movements is distributed in pockets of high energy that are nested among areas of a more leisurely – one could even say ‘cinematic’ – lyricism.”
Adams shares a mastery of orchestral sound and texture, of time and tempo with Gustav Mahler, a composer who has figured importantly in Dudamel’s already imposing history. Dudamel first conducted Mahler’s Symphony no. 1 when he was 17, and it was his victory at the inaugural Mahler Conducting Competition in Bamberg in 2004 with the composer’s Fifth Symphony that launched his international career. Considering that this score was the first score he learned with his mentor and personal hero, José Antonio Abreu, it is no wonder that he has chosen to revisit Mahler 1 for his first concerts in Los Angeles. It was a work composed by a 28 year old and was, in turn, conducted in Los Angeles by a 28 year old, as well.
Mahler revised and refined his First Symphony for more than a decade, developing a heady mix of extra-musical stimuli – among them the romantic novel Titan by Jean Paul, a satirical drawing of a forest funeral, and a pair of love affairs – from a symphonic poem in two parts and five movements to its final (1899) four-movement form without any of the programmatic description. Themes from his Songs of a Wayfarer are important in the opening movement – bucolic and bittersweet, with a shattering climax – and in the twisted funeral procession third movement. The scherzo is Mahler at his most artfully simple, and the finale takes us from violent despair to heavenly hope – twice.
1. Opening / The Inaugural Concert / Dudamel
2. Adams/City Noir: The City and its Double
3. Adams/City Noir: The Song is for You
4. Adams/City Noir: Boulevard Night
5. Mahler/Symphony No.1 in D: 1. Langsam. Schleppend
6. Mahler/Symphony No.1 in D: 2. Kräftig bewegt
7. Mahler/Symphony No.1 in D: 3. Feierlich und gemessen, ohne zu schleppen
8. Mahler/Symphony No.1 in D: 4. Stürmisch bewegt
9. Credits / The Inaugural Concert / Dudamel