Gustavo Dudamel

Famous Maestro Gustavo Dudamel Visits New York

On his first visit to the city after being named the future music director of the New York Philharmonic, he joyfully assumed the position of celebrity conductor.

Gustavo Dudamel walked into a room full of New York Philharmonic personnel, board members, and supporters on Monday afternoon, weary from a late-night flight from Los Angeles but still in excellent spirits.

“I feel like Mickey Mouse,” he remarked as people gathered to shake his hand and pose for photos.

It was Dudamel’s first trip to New York since being selected the Philharmonic’s future music and creative director — a position he will take in 2026, following the end of his stint at the Los Angeles Philharmonic — and he was already a celebrity conductor.

During his two-hour appearance at the Philharmonic’s home, David Geffen Hall, Dudamel, 42, revealed few details about his vision, saying he wanted more time to get to know the city and the orchestra. But, he demonstrated some of the qualities that drew the Philharmonic’s attention: charisma, charm, and the ability to inject new life into classical music.

He took part in a contract signing event with childlike glee. (“Are these presidential pens?” he wondered as he prepared to sign the five-year contract, which he had already signed electronically earlier this month when the Philharmonic kidnapped him from Los Angeles in a big coup.)

He answered questions from Philharmonic executives and the news media about the future of classical music, his term as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which he has headed since 2009, and his sports preferences. (After initially declining to take sides in Mets versus Yankees, he said he was a fan of the Cardenales de Lara of Barquisimeto, Venezuela, his hometown; but also of the Los Angeles Dodgers, because of their Brooklyn heritage; and finally he declared, with an air of hesitation, “I love the Yankees, too.” )

Then he mingled with the orchestra’s players, praising their sound, talking about Mahler’s Symphony No. 9, which they’ll perform together in May, and thanking them for the presents they’d given him while the symphony was wooing him. (He told cellist Maria Kitsopoulos that her delicious cheesecake was a major factor in his decision to relocate to New York.)

Christopher Martin, the orchestra’s main trumpeter and a key figure in the search for a new music director, hugged him. Dudamel was the favourite among the orchestra’s players from the start.

“Seeing you here feels like a dream,” Martin added. “No one believes it.”

Deborah Borda, the Philharmonic’s president and chief executive, hosted a talk with Dudamel on the stage of Geffen Hall before he accepted questions from the media.

“I always said you’d have a ticker-tape parade when you got to New York,” she added to applause and whistles in the hall.

Dudamel stated that it was too early to outline his ideas for the orchestra and that he did not want to impose his vision just yet. Yet, he repeated his desire to establish a New York education programme comparable to Youth Orchestra Los Angeles, or YOLA, which is fashioned after El Sistema, the Venezuelan social and artistic movement in which he learned.

On expressing the need to do more to connect with citizens, particularly in poor communities, he recalled the Spanish poet and philosopher Miguel de Unamuno: “The freedom of the people lies in their culture.” When a reporter suggested naming his youth orchestra in New York “YONY,” Dudamel laughed and said, “I love the name.”

“Working with young people, working with communities, bringing the orchestra to the community is part of my DNA,” he stated. “As the hub of this city’s cultural and musical life, the New York Philharmonic must play a role, a very important role, in education.”

Dudamel will be the Philharmonic’s first Hispanic conductor in a city where Latinos make up around 29 percent of the population. When asked what he thought of the milestone by a reporter from Telemundo, the Spanish-language network, Dudamel indicated he hadn’t given it any attention. Later he expressed hope that his journey from Barquisimeto to some of the world’s most famous stages will serve as an inspiration to others.

“This can be an example for girls, guys, and young people to have the confidence that aspirations can always be realised,” he stated. “You have to work hard, have a lot of discipline, and love what you do, but it is possible.”

Throughout the day, a recurring topic was Dudamel’s hair, which has been a subject of fascination since he broke onto the international scene in his early 20s.

During a reception, Angela Chen, a board member, inquired why he kept it shorter now than in the past. “It feels more fresh this way,” he added, running his fingers through his famed grey hair. “One day it will be completely white.”

Dudamel stated at the news conference that he was no longer a “young promise,” but that he still felt connected to the energy of his youth.

“It was crazy when I was 24 — 23, 24, 25 — I was a wild animal, not just because of my hair,” he remarked. “I keep Gustavo, the wild beast who is constantly present — only with less hair.”

Dudamel appeared to be digesting his upcoming relocation to New York, which he has called as one of the most difficult decisions of his life, at times.

During the news conference, he claimed it felt odd to see actor and filmmaker Bradley Cooper, a friend.

“I’m not sure where I want to put myself right now,” he admitted to Cooper.

On his phone, he showed Cooper a photograph of Leonard Bernstein, a renowned predecessor at the Philharmonic to whom he is frequently compared, that he had seen in Geffen Hall. (Cooper is directing and starring in a film on Leonard Bernstein.) Bernstein is photographed with his eyes closed in an elevator after a performance.

“It says it all,” Dudamel added. “That weary expression. He sacrificed everything for music.”

Borda gave Dudamel a tour of Geffen Hall at the end of his visit, which reopened last October following a $550 million restoration. As Dudamel watched, she navigated through a digital display of the Philharmonic’s previous music directors, including Toscanini, Mahler, Pierre Boulez, and Leonard Bernstein, comparing the length of their tenures. They dropped by the new restaurant adjacent to the lobby, and Dudamel, a whisky enthusiast, gazed at a bottle of 18-year-old Macallan on the way out.

In a brief interview before departing, Dudamel expressed his exhaustion but joy at finally celebrating his appointment with the orchestra, which he has led 26 times since his debut in 2007.

“I consider myself fortunate in life to have the opportunity to come here — to be able to extend the family that I have formed in Los Angeles,” he said. “There is a link between all of this. It’s a significant step. It’s lovely.”