“I think Gilbert’s going to change the sound of the orchestra and develop his own sound,” says Markus Rhoten, the orchestra’s principal timpanist. “He’s training colleagues to listen to each other in a different way, which changes the balance of sound: you want to play your best for him.”
Certainly, Gilbert doesn’t seem too phased by taking on the daunting role of leading the country’s oldest orchestra, following in the footsteps of illustrious names like Mahler, Toscanini and Bernstein. “Of course it’s intimidating,” says Gilbert. “But what has kept me grounded and stopped me flipping out is having been asked to just be myself. I’m not trying to come up with the most brilliant answers every time.”
It helps, too, that Gilbert grew up around the orchestra. In fact, you could say it’s in his blood: his mother plays violin in the orchestra and his father retired from the violin section a few years ago. At the tender age of nine he was hanging around backstage while symphonic music drifted in the ether — no doubt good training for any aspiring maestro. So, for Gilbert, a native son of New York, this feels like a homecoming. He was given a rapturous reception last summer when he conducted the Philharmonic at a free concert in Central Park in front of 63,000 people. His genial nature and sense of humor came through when, during a pre-concert speech, he turned to the violin section and said, “Hi, Mom!”
The collective chuckle that followed was a great New York moment for the maestro, who says he can’t wait to embrace his hometown all over again. An avid and adventurous cook, he is particularly looking forward to the city’s diverse cuisine, especially that of West 32nd Street’s Little Korea. Korean barbeque has been hard to find in Sweden, where he has lived for the last eight and a half years with wife Kajsa and their two children; Gilbert was the chief conductor of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, and Kajsa a cellist in the orchestra.
By coincidence, Dudamel’s last permanent gig was in Sweden, too, as the music director of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra. He and his wife, Eloisa, are currently looking for a new home in Los Angeles. Already the town has opened its heart to them: the legendary Hollywood hot dog restaurant Pink’s has even named one of its hot dogs the Dudamel Dog. And Antonio Villaraigosa, LA’s first Latino mayor, couldn’t be more delighted about the arrival of this Venezuelan prodigy.
Dudamel’s first official event as music director will be, on October 3, a day of free events at the Hollywood Bowl culminating in a rendition of Beethoven’s Ninth. In New York, Gilbert will lead the first-ever Philharmonic Open Day on September 12, featuring Symphonie fantastique and a series of chamber concerts.