Edinburgh International Festival: LA Philharmonic to begin residency with Dudamel

Culture vultures wandering through the streets of downtown Los Angeles will be struck by two iconic artistic statements.

Gustavo Dudamel is the charismatic conductor of the LA Philharmonic. Picture: Adam Latham

One is the mushrooming presence of idiosyncratic buildings designed by architect Frank Gehry, the most striking being the mangled modernism of his Walt Disney Concert Hall, the stunning home of the LA Philharmonic Orchestra. The other is the orchestra’s darling music director Gustavo Dudamel, whose larger-than-life poster image towers above the concert hall doorway, a symbol of the celebrity culture that drives this city and neighbouring Hollywood.

At home, the orchestra is as popular and prominent as the Los Angeles Dodgers, dividing its time between mainstream seasons in the Disney Hall and its razzmatazz outdoor summer encampment at the Hollywood Bowl. In either camp, be it a Mahler symphony or a Williams movie score, the fans come out for Dudamel. He’s glitz on a plate. Both LA and Tinseltown lap him up and beg for more.

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In this, its centenary year, however, the LA Phil has gone global, with an ambitious worldwide touring programme that includes a milestone residency next weekend to mark the opening of this year’s Edinburgh International Festival. Dudamel and his team reenact the Hollywood Bowl experience at Tyncastle Park on Friday in a spectacular free EIF opener that features classic movie scores by the likes of Korngold, Herrmann, Waxman, and John Williams.

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One man delighted to see all this happening is LA Phil chief executive Simon Woods, better-known to Scots for his inspiring curatorship of the RSNO between 2006 and 2011. He took over the helm in LA recently, after seven years as CEO of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, and is especially keen to let Edinburgh audiences see what his prize outfit can do. “This is Dudamel’s first appearance at the festival with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the orchestra itself hasn’t been here in nearly 15 years,” he explains.

It’s important, he says, for the orchestra to be more than a fleeting presence in places it visits. “We’re investing in longer residencies that give us the opportunity to perform a range of work, integrate local artists like the Edinburgh Festival Chorus into our programmes, and connect the young musicians of YOLA with their Scottish peers. And in this centennial year, Edinburgh is one of the most important stops on a major global touring schedule including Seoul, Tokyo, Mexico City, London, Boston and New York.”

That said, all eyes and ears will undoubtedly be on Dudamel’s Mahler 2 on Saturday, with soloists Miah Persson (soprano) and Anna Larsson (mezzo soprano). When the most famous graduate of Venezuela’s El Sistema programme last appeared at the EIF – 2008 with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra – many found his conducting of Berlioz and Ravel bombastic and superficial. Surely the passing of a decade has instilled greater substance in his musical thought?

Showmanship will play its part, though, when it comes to the sounds of the silver screen. “Gustavo has a deep passion and conviction for making music accessible and available to the broadest possible audience,” says Woods.

“He absolutely relishes the opportunity to play in big venues like the Hollywood Bowl, or the Olympic Gymnastics Arena in Seoul, where we played earlier this year. Both he and the orchestra love to be able to connect with audiences on a large scale, so we can’t wait to do exactly that at Tynecastle Park – especially if it doesn’t rain!”

For unlimited access to The Scotsman Festival coverage subscribe online here. The LA Philharmonic’s Edinburgh International Festival residency opens on 2 August at Tyncastle Park, and continues on 3 & 4 August at the Usher Hall, with an open rehearsal featuring its youth orchestra (YOLA) on 3 August