No such thing as an unknown Venezuelan conductor
The Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra is playing at the BBC Proms tonight (5th August 2005) with a programme including Mahler (Ruckert-Lieder with Anne Sophie von Otter), Tubin and Sibelius. Their superstar Principal Conductor Neemi Jarvi is ill, so stepping into the breach is 24 year old Venezuelan Gustavo Dudamel (right) who becomes the third youngest conductor to appear at the Proms. As the two younger talents were Simon Rattle and Daniel Harding there is a lot for Gustavo Dudamel to live up to.
Several famous conductors got their fairytale big break by taking over at short notice from an indisposed superstar. Probably the most famous was Leonard Bernstein who took over from Bruno Walter to conduct the New York Philharmonic in November 1943 at just a few hours notice.
The media are having a field day in the UK with the 'unknown Venezuelan' story, and Charlotte Higgins in the Guardian seems to have swallowed it hook line and sinker with a screaming headline... Conducting prodigy to make Proms debut at 24.
Now I am as delighted as anyone that young Gustavo is getting his big break tonight. But the Guardian's story that 'Dudamel is unknown outside his native Venzuela, where he conducts a youth orchestra' is a great example of the facts not being allowed to get in the way of a great story. In fact Dudamel is signed to Askonas Holt. They are one of the world's leading concert management agencies; which means they are a major musical power broker bringing orchestras and conductors together. And their artists include Sir Simon Rattle, Daniel Barenboim and Bernard Haitink, as well as Daniel Harding.
Among the 'youth orchestras' on Askonas Holt's roster are the Berlin Philharmonic and BBC Symphony Orchestras. Is a pattern starting to emerge? Moreover the unknown conductor of Venezuelan youth orchestras also has a Deutsche Grammophon contract in his pocket, a company with very strong links to the Berlin Philharmonic. The media also makes much of Simon Rattle's advocacy of Dudamel. This becomes a little less remarkable when you realise they are both under the same management who stand to gain financially from Dudamel's success. And then Rattle is, of course, Music Director of the Berlin Philharmonic who are represented by Askonas Holt......need I say more?
So good luck tonight (Friday 5th August) Gustavo, I'll be rooting for you. But I also happen to know that fairytales just don't exist anymore in today's music-like-water world of classical music - except in the minds of PR men and management agencies.
*Judge Gustavo Dudamel's Proms debut for yourself by listening to the live web cast. The concert starts at 7.30pm BST tonight (5th August) . Convert this to your local time zone using this link. Or if you cannot listen-in read the Guardian review tomorrow via this link.
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