Venezuelan Gustavo Dudamel, a star conductor acclaimed in the world’s largest venues, has been appointed musical director of the Paris Opera, the institution announced on Friday.
The 40-year-old maestro, who succeeds the Swiss Philippe Jordan, will take office in August for a six-year term. He will continue to serve as director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, which he has conducted since 2009.
Paris Opera director Alexander Neef hailed “such an accomplished and emblematic conductor” and called him “one of the most talented and prestigious conductors in the world”, during a press conference transmitted via Zoom from the Palais Garnier.
Gustavo Dudamel said he was “very touched and grateful” by this appointment to “this magnificent house”, affirming that he had not “hesitated for a moment to say yes”.
“After a difficult year, I feel a deep responsibility towards our art form,” he said, referring to the health crisis.
The maestro wants the Opera to become “a platform for the future” so that “everyone feels represented” by this house. “Access to music will be an integral part” of his project, he said.
He also said he wanted to collaborate closely with the Opera Ballet, already announcing a dance creation to music by composer Thomas Adès.
Asked about the salary of the new musical director – Dudamel is one of the highest paid conductors in the world – Alexander Neef replied that it would be “unusual to reveal it”.
“We are investing in our future which depends more than anything on making the public enthusiastic,” he told AFP.
He also responded to remarks in the press on the advisability of Dudamel’s dual function in Paris and Los Angeles: “These commitments are complementary, they are in no way unusual,” he told AFP. , citing the example of other chefs. “In terms of availability, that doesn’t take him away from us and the orchestra doesn’t expect him to be there all 12 months to conduct everything”.
« Wunderkind »
Born in Barquisimeto, in western Venezuela, on January 26, 1981, this son of a trombonist and a singing teacher is a pure product and one of the most illustrious representatives of “El Sistema”, the National System of Music. Venezuelan Youth Orchestras, a famous popular classical music education project founded in 1975.
The maestro, recognizable by his curly hair that follows the movement with each stroke of the wand, is also the subject of criticism from many of his compatriots who accuse him of having closed his eyes for years to his authoritarian drifts. of the socialist power of Caracas.
He had explained that his silence was intended to avoid politicizing “El Sistema”, the National System of Orchestras for Youth of Venezuela, a famous popular education project in classical music founded in 1975, of which it is a pure product and a of the most illustrious representatives.
It is thanks to this social program – supported by the State, before being recovered by the Chavist power -, which gave access to music to hundreds of thousands of children from poor neighborhoods, that the young Dudamel has been catapulted into the head of the greatest orchestras.
Its founder, José Antonio Abreu (1939-2018), whose project has been duplicated in many countries, at the age of 18 appointed him director of the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, from Sistema.
In 2004, the Venezuelan won the international Gustav Mahler conducting competition organized in Germany. He then conducts the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra (Sweden). In 2009, at barely 28 years old, the “Wunderkind” arrived at the pulpit of the prestigious Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.
” Piece of wood “
His compatriot Mayerlin Carrero, who plays the trombone in the Miami Symphony Orchestra, remembers a concert at a musical seminar in 1994. “He was a young man who made lots of jokes, extrovert, always happy and enthusiastic. at the same time very concentrated, ”she told AFP.
At 13, Gustavo Dudamel gave up the violin for conducting. “Who could have imagined that a child from the working class of the city of Barquisimeto, Venezuela, whose only remarkable talent was to shake a piece of wood, could one day find himself here? », Declared the conductor in January 2019 when a star in his name had been affixed on Hollywood Boulevard.
The director has become known in particular for his breathtaking enthusiasm and his expressive gestures in front of the orchestra: he conducts with ample movements, closes his eyes.
“His way of leading has always been eccentric, different,” Linda Briceño, a Venezuelan trumpeter also trained by El Sistema, told AFP.
“A talented man and much loved by orchestras because of his personality,” adds Robert Fink, associate dean of the School of Music at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). But “it is not innovative”, underlines the professor of musicology, “its model remains the European school”.
This maestro, better known for the symphonic than for the lyric, conducted for the first time the orchestra of the Paris Opera for Bohemian by Puccini in 2017.
Married to Spanish actress Maria Valverde and father of a child from a previous marriage, Gustavo Dudamel tried to stay away from Venezuelan politics in a country in economic decline and strongly divided politically.
After being treated almost like a national hero, traveling the world with the Simon Bolivar Orchestra – which he also conducted at the funeral of Hugo Chavéz – and participating in ceremonies organized by the authorities, he openly takes a stand against the president Nicolas Maduro in 2017.
He then denounces the repression against the massive anti-government demonstrations which kill 200 people. His tour with the National Youth Orchestra, a flagship government program, was subsequently canceled.
The turnaround, however, aroused skepticism from some. “After taking advantage of the regime, I consider his words to be wind,” said Venezuelan pianist and composer Gabriela Montero, always very critical of the maestro.