3:08pm

Fri September 28, 2012
Deceptive Cadence

Gustavo Dudamel On The Magic Of Stravinsky's 'Crazy Music'

Originally published on Tue October 16, 2012 2:46 pm

This Sunday, a landmark composition of the 20th century will be webcast by NPR, and led by the quintessential 21st century conductor: 31-year-old Gustavo Dudamel, who will conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic in Igor Stravinsky's Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring). Dudamel spoke about his experience of this earthshaking piece with All Things Considered host Robert Siegel.

Dudamel says he has a "very special and beautiful" history with Stravinsky's music. "My father was playing in the Lara [Venezuela] Symphony Orchestra," he explains, "and I went to the concert. It was shocking music — and not in a bad way. I was really impressed. My energy, I remember, because I was like 8 years old — it was very physical. And then when I was a teenager, they invited me to play with this Lara Symphony Orchestra, with their youth orchestra. I was conducting the children in this youth orchestra [in the Rite]." (Astonishingly, Dudamel was invited to begin conducting the youth orchestra at age 13.)

"This was the most amazing experience," he recalls. "I was playing this crazy music — difficult to count, really strange to read — but immediately it became a challenge for me. I've conducted it a lot after that. It's a piece that is part of my musical life."

One thing that is often said of Dudamel is that he conducts music as if it had just been composed, without regard for what one critic termed "the accretions of past performances."

But that's part of the Rite's magic, the conductor says. "It's a hundred years later," he says, "and it's still so modern. Still, Sacre is new all the time. For me, that is the secret of the piece. I love to bring every line up. Sometimes, you listen to something very horizontal, but when you see the music in a vertical way — I'm talking about the line, every line in the orchestration — it's amazing. You discover new colors, you discover, 'Oh look, this is a very traditional harmony,' but then you see the details — and then every time it's different. I'm sure that this version will be completely different to the last one that I did.

"I think that the Rite is a symbol of the beginning of life," Dudamel continues. "It's beautiful because it's so natural. Of course, you have these crazy moments of wild dynamics, but at the same time you feel that the rhythms and the melodies are so natural. They're like this ancestral feeling of ... 'Wow, I think I have belief.' "

Still, The Rite of Spring was written 99 years ago. Is classical music still capable of shocking people — especially young people? "Absolutely," Dudamel says. "It's the way you offer music to the people. If you offer a routine — and I'm not saying we have to jump or scream, or we have to change completely the score, because we're playing exactly the same notes — but the only thing is that we have to avoid a routine. We have to play always 150 percent."

Dudamel grew up in a musical family. Not only did his father play in the orchestra, but his mother was a singer. He was also nurtured by Venezuela's famed national music program, popularly nicknamed El Sistema (The System), which inspired Dudamel to create a similar initiative in Los Angeles. So what's the pitch to kids in L.A.?

"It's the same music," the conductor says. "I think every kid would love to play an instrument, or to know how to play an instrument. Everybody listens to music, any kind of music: pop, folk, classical, whatever. Music is always around — it's part of us, part of our feelings. It's natural."

But even if the pop music Californian kids hear is a lot more simple and predictable in its rhythms and harmonies than The Rite of Spring, Dudamel says all music is shared: "All music is coming from folk music, the music our ancestors were doing, that became classical music, the dances, the jazz, now the rock, pop, Latin, music coming from Africa. All music is one, in different ways. They are completely different from each other, but at the same time they are only one. It's music."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "THE RITE OF SPRING")

SIEGEL: This Sunday, a landmark composition of the 20th century will be webcast by NPR, conducted by the quintessential 21st-century conductor. 31-year-old Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic perform Igor Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "THE RITE OF SPRING")

SIEGEL: This is Dudamel's recording of "The Rite of Spring" or "Le Sacre du Printemps" with the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of his native Venezuela.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "THE RITE OF SPRING")

SIEGEL: Dudamel's youth, his charisma, his energy on the podium have earned him a rare nickname among those who go by the title maestro. He's often called the Dude.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "THE RITE OF SPRING")

SIEGEL: Gustavo Dudamel, welcome to the program.

GUSTAVO DUDAMEL: Thank you very much. Pleasure.

SIEGEL: And I'd like you to describe your relationship to this Stravinsky piece, "The Rite of Spring," and how you first encountered it when you were a kid in Venezuela with the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra.

DUDAMEL: I have a really beautiful and a very special history with "Sacre" because my father was playing in the Lara Symphony Orchestra, and I went to the concert. But that was like a shocking music, not in a bad way. I was really impressed. And, you know, my energy, I remember, because I was like 8 years old and was very physical. And then when I was a teenager, I was 12 years old, they invited me to play with this Lara Symphony Orchestra. I was playing in the youth orchestra and conducting the children in the youth orchestra, and they invited me to play.

And this was the most amazing experience. I was playing this crazy music - difficult to count, really strange to read - but immediately, it became like a challenge for me. And after that, I have conducted the piece a lot of time. It's a piece also that is part of my musical life, a very important piece.

SIEGEL: Well, let me ask you this. One thing that's often said about you as a conductor, very favorably, is that you conduct a piece as if it had just been composed, that you do so without much regard for what I read one critic calling the accretions of past performances.

(LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: How do you bring a freshness to a piece that you've now...

DUDAMEL: Well...

SIEGEL: ...known your whole adult life and you've even recorded it?

DUDAMEL: I do. Look, look, it's still so modern, you know? We are talking about 100 years later. Still, "Sacre" is new all the time. And for me, that is the secret of the piece. You know, every line, I love to bring every line up, you know? It's like sometimes you listen to something very horizontal, but when you see the music in a vertical way - I'm talking about the line, every line in the orchestration - it's amazing. It's amazing. You discover new colors. You discover that, oh, look, this is a very traditional harmony, but then you see the details, details, details, and then every time, it's different. I'm sure that this version will be completely different to the last one that I did.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "THE RITE OF SPRING")

SIEGEL: If you were required to come up with an adjective to describe the kind of "Le Sacre du Printemps," the kind of "Rite of Spring" that you're conducting with the L.A. Philharmonic this time, what adjective would you use?

DUDAMEL: It's a symbol of life, of the beginning of life. It's beautiful because it's so natural, you know? Of course, you have these crazy moments of wild dynamics, but at the same time, you feel that that is the rhythms and the melodies are so natural, are like this ancestral feeling, you know, of, wow, I think I have belief.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "THE RITE OF SPRING")

SIEGEL: When "The Rite of Spring" was performed in Paris, not only the music but also the ballet 99 years ago, talk about shocking. It famously so shocked the audience...

DUDAMEL: Yes.

SIEGEL: ...that people say...

DUDAMEL: Polemic. Yeah.

SIEGEL: ...it created a near riot and...

DUDAMEL: Yes.

SIEGEL: ...there was much criticism. I wonder, especially as someone who works with young people in youth orchestras, is orchestral classical music capable of shocking anymore? Is it capable of shocking young people in any way?

DUDAMEL: Absolutely, absolutely, you know, because it's the way how you offer the music to the people. If you offer a routine - and I'm not say that, you know, we have to jump or we have to scream or we have to change completely the score because we are playing exactly the same notes, but the only thing is that we have to avoid routine, and we have to play always 150 percent.

SIEGEL: You grew up in a musical household?

DUDAMEL: Mm. Yes, yes.

SIEGEL: Your parents were both...

DUDAMEL: My parents, my - exactly - my father was playing in the orchestra and my mother was singing.

SIEGEL: And you were part of the famous Venezuelan youth program...

DUDAMEL: Yes.

SIEGEL: ...El Sistema, and you've created a program in Los Angeles based on it.

DUDAMEL: Yes.

SIEGEL: I'm just curious. When you approach kids in Los Angeles, when you're - when the orchestra does to try to get them involved, kids who don't have a musician in the family, what's the pitch that you would make to a youngster perhaps?

DUDAMEL: Well, yeah, look, it's the same music. I think for every kid, they would love to play an instrument or to know how to play an instrument because everybody listen to music, any kind of music: pop, you know, folk, classical, whatever. But music is always around. It's part of us. It's part of our feelings. It's natural.

SIEGEL: But for American kids in Los Angeles, say, who was surrounded by music whose rhythm is going to be a lot more simple than the rhythm of "The Rite of Spring," let's say...

DUDAMEL: Yes.

SIEGEL: ...or whose harmonies are going to be a lot more predictable...

DUDAMEL: Yes.

SIEGEL: ...than what they'll hear, is the pitch this music is still just like the popular music that surrounds you or it's very different and unlike the music?

DUDAMEL: Well, it's different because, no, we are talking about "Sacre," it's a very complex piece of art, you know? You cannot compare, let's say, a pop song with "Sacre" because it will be completely different. But music is coming from one moment, you know, that is the folk music, you know, the music that our ancestors were doing, you know, and became classical music. And then from the classical music, then it went to the dances, (unintelligible), the jazz, then, you know, now the rock, the ghetto music, the Latin music coming from Africa. You know, all music is one in different ways, and they are completely different to each other, but at the same time, it's only one. It's music.

SIEGEL: Of course, American orchestras are always struggling to attract younger people to the...

DUDAMEL: Yes.

SIEGEL: ...concerts to try to get less gray hair out there in the audience.

DUDAMEL: Yes. We have a lot of young people here, and that is a good sign because we have to build a new - the new audience, the audience of the future.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "THE RITE OF SPRING")

SIEGEL: Well, Gustavo Dudamel, thank you very much for talking with us today.

DUDAMEL: Thank you very much. Big pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "THE RITE OF SPRING")

SIEGEL: You can hear Gustavo Dudamel conduct the L.A. Philharmonic in Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring" live this Sunday afternoon at 5 p.m. Eastern on npr.org. This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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