Milk Duds And Dudamel: The L.A. Philharmonic Hits The Multiplexes

Conductor Gustavo Dudamel i

Conductor Gustavo Dudamel is making his maiden voyage into movie theaters across the country. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Philharmonic hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of the Los Angeles Philharmonic
Conductor Gustavo Dudamel

Conductor Gustavo Dudamel is making his maiden voyage into movie theaters across the country.

Courtesy of the Los Angeles Philharmonic

Sunday, Jan. 9, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and its crowd-pleasing conductor Gustavo Dudamel, will be coming to a movie theater near you.

Taking a cue from the Metropolitan Opera "Live in HD" simulcasts, "LA Phil Live" is a series of three concerts to be transmitted live to some 450 theaters decked out for high definition broadcasts.

On Sunday, actress Vanessa Williams hosts as Dudamel leads the orchestra in music by John Adams (Slonimsky's Earbox), Beethoven (Symphony No. 7) and Leonard Bernstein ("Jeremiah" Symphony).

The question is: How many people will show up and pay their $22.00 just to watch a symphony orchestra — dressed in their stuffy concert attire — play a concert? Yes, it's one of America's best orchestras with a charismatic conductor leading a fairly interesting program. But Sunday's simulcast, by nature, will lack the sparkling on-screen visuals and drama inherent in the Met's grand operas millions of people are attending at their local cinemas.

In a November Los Angeles Times article, Deborah Borda, the Philharmonic's chief executive, acknowledged the challenges of the venture. But she was confident that Dudamel's "vibrancy of interaction" with the L.A. Phil players would be worth the risk.

Judging from a newly-released DVD of the orchestra's 2010 season-opening gala concert, the "vibrancy" Borda claims is evident only fitfully, even if the orchestra plays Rossini with panache. Still, what we see is stock and trade symphonic shooting — a timely close up of a Philharmonic flutist nervously grimacing through a solo, a group shot of the double basses sawing away and plenty of screen time for Dudamel himself. And yes, he looks pretty good, with hair bouncing to the music and a glint of mischief in his eyes.

Fred Child, host of the classical radio program Performance Today, and the announcer-commentator for the Live From Lincoln Center telecasts, isn't surprised that the Philharmonic is taking the risk of going national.

"The L.A. Phil may be the first to recognize this," Child says, "but with Dudamel, they're also in the best position to take advantage of it: Great orchestras are no longer local. The Philharmonic has a couple of aces, and recognizes this as the perfect time to play them. First, there's Walt Disney Concert Hall. It's stunningly beautiful, inside and out. The audience surrounds the stage, creating a sense of intimacy no matter where you're sitting. If the director does well, the audience in movie theaters will feel that same sense of closeness to the event."

Gustavo Dudamel leads the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the 3rd movement from Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 1.

Then, Child says, there's the "Ace of Hearts," Gustavo Dudamel. Like Borda, Child believes in the connection the 29-year-old conductor has already made with the Los Angeles players.

"He is a riveting visual presence on the podium, and he has galvanized the L.A. Phil," Child says. "They look at him, they smile, they grimace, they react and respond to his enthusiasm. Right now, the L.A. Philharmonic might be the most fun orchestra to watch in the world."

But will there be enough people watching to justify the expense? The Philharmonic declined to release their cost figures. And even Met general manager Peter Gelb has admitted that, at the beginning, his popular movie theater transmissions (distributed by NCM Fathom, the same company the Philharmonic has signed with) did not pay for themselves.

So what do you think? Are you planning on attending "LA Phil Live" this Sunday? Will Dudamel (and Ms. Williams) rock the house, or will it only look like a fine orchestra on a really big screen?

Tell us your thoughts in the comments section. And check back Monday, Jan. 10 for reactions from people across the country who attended the event.

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