Friday, October 23, 2009

Let Dudamel be Dudamel!

Whose idea was it to start referring to Gustavo Dudamel as "The Dude?" Is this an inevitable piece of baggage that he is going to have to carry around Los Angeles in the same vein as the "Dudamel Dog" now available at Pink's in Hollywood? An initial Google probe indicated that the epithet was already being used by Los Angeles Times Staff Writer Diane Haithman as early as April 6, 2008. This would have been a few weeks after he made his debut here conducting the San Francisco Symphony, where we were mercifully spared the label. However, here is Haithman's account:

For a two-week run that ends today, Gustavo Dudamel, the 27-year-old Venezuelan wunderkind who will take over as music director of the Philharmonic in 2009, has been in residence in Los Angeles, leading the orchestra for the first time since his appointment was announced a year ago.

Friday's concert featured him conducting Debussy and Bartok -- the latter in a concerto played by live-wire violinist and Los Angeles native Leila Josefowicz, 30, whose youthful zest rivaled Dudamel's.

And if his streak of critically acclaimed, sold-out concerts is any indication, Dudamania will still be at full throttle when the conductor returns on a permanent basis in October 2009.

Just ask the man himself, whom the music blogosphere has already nicknamed "The Dude" or "El Dude." At a post-concert "talk-back" with the audience, Deborah Borda, president of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Assn., ended her remarks with a rallying cry: "How many of you have Dudamania?" The conductor with the wild curls and the infectious grin listened to the applause for only a few seconds before shooting his own hand, school-kid style, into the air.

So I decided to test Haithman's claim that this was a phenomenon of the blogosphere by doing a Google blogs search on "dude" and "Dudamel" for the period between April 7, 2007 (a rough approximation to the announcement of his Los Angeles appointment) and April 6, 2008. This yielded 47 hits, the earliest of which, seem to have evaporated (one by Charles Barwell on August 20 and the other by Ed Vaizey on August 29). The earliest "real" hit was posted on September 11 (!), 2007 to the ArtsWatch blog maintained by Peter Dobrin, whose credentials in both journalism (The Philadelphia Inquirer) and music (Peabody Institute) are pretty respectable. The post provided a link to a video clip of Dudamel's recent Proms appearance under the headline "The Dude." Is this what started the rot? Dare I say it? Inquiring minds want to know!

Now the epithet has progressed from the Los Angeles Times to PBS, having figured conspicuously in the promotions for their broadcast this past Wednesday of Dudamel's opening night at Disney. I can imagine John Adams, who composed "City Noir" for the occasion, getting a good chuckle out of this ballyhoo. However, the Adams premiere was coupled with Gustav Mahler's first symphony. While this may have been a clever move to build up an audience for Mahler in Los Angeles, one has to wonder what he would have thought of the whole affair. I have this wonderful vision of him easing the shock of disbelief by downing a beer while chewing on a Dudamel Dog!

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