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New York ‘can enrich my soul’ says next Philharmonic head Dudamel

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Venezuelan conductor and violinist Gustavo Dudamel speaks to members of the media after being introduced as the New York Philharmonic’s 27th Music and Artistic Director, during a press conference at David Geffen Hall in Manhattan./AFP
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Feb 21, 2023 - 03:47 AM

NEW YORK, UNITED STATES — The globally renowned conductor Gustavo Dudamel is set to become the first Latino to lead America’s oldest orchestra, and on Monday vowed that “New York will become my city too.”

The Venezuelan maestro who is ending his lengthy tenure with the Los Angeles Philharmonic to take on the coveted New York role says the “special, energetic, cultural vibe” of his next home “can enrich my soul, my spirit — as an artist and as a citizen of the world.”

The 42-year-old was speaking at a press conference introducing him as the New York Phil’s next music and artistic director. He is also the music director of the Opera National de Paris and the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra in his native Venezuela.

In the Big Apple, Dudamel will take on the role of music director designate in the 2025–26 season before adopting the lead role in season 2026-27.

His LA contract runs through 2025-26, and he will depart that post after 17 seasons.

It’s a coup for the Phil, the symphony founded in 1842 that’s been striving to modernize its image including by pouring $550 million into the renovation of David Geffen Hall, its home in Manhattan’s Lincoln Center.

The venue’s facelift was a major selling point in convincing Dudamel to sign a contract with the Phil, and includes 360-degree seating around the stage for a more immersive experience for both viewers and musicians.

“We have to remember that music is about energy, and the audience makes a big difference when we are on the stage making music,” Dudamel told journalists Monday.

The curly-haired conductor made his debut at the Phil in 2007, and has already guest-conducted the orchestra 26 times.

He’ll offer a preview of his forthcoming reign by leading three performances this May 19-21 of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony.

“I think when I come now in May, it will feel like family,” the conductor said. “It’s not anymore the feeling of a guest person that comes and goes.”

“Life has been very generous to me.”

Music a ‘powerful tool’ 

Born January 26, 1981 in Barquisimeto, Venezuela to a trombonist and a voice teacher, Dudamel’s talent was molded by the illustrious Venezuelan musical education program, “El Sistema.”

When he moved to Los Angeles, Dudamel continued that youth education mission, creating the Youth Orchestra Los Angeles, known as YOLA, in the model of El Sistema.

While he didn’t promise a forthcoming YONY, “what we can think about now is how to build something that is connected with the young generation, and of course especially with the community,” Dudamel said.

“For sure we will have education as part of our journey.”

Dudamel’s time in Los Angeles saw him foster ties with Hollywood as he catapulted to celebrity himself, bringing classical music to ears perhaps unfamiliar with or intimidated by the genre.

“We have to educate people but in the best way, not putting art on a pedestal without access,” he said. “When you give an instrument to a child, you are giving to this child beauty — you’re giving the chance to this young boy, young girl, to create their own world.”

“There are no limits in the way of thinking of music as a very powerful tool for social transformation.”

Asked what his myriad accomplishments meant as the first Latino to lead the Phil, Dudamel replied in Spanish that “this is what getting here is all about, it is that child from Barquisimeto who has had the opportunity to have this wonderful journey, all the way to one of the most emblematic artistic institutions in the world.”

“So that fills me with pride. And that it is a benchmark for girls, boys, young people, to have that certainty that dreams can always be achieved,” he continued.

“You have to work hard, with a lot of discipline, a lot of love for what you do — but you can achieve it.”

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