Can this kid save classical music?

Gustavo Dudamel

Gustavo Dudamel y Xosé, originally uploaded by Traductoreces.

Is the person you see on the left the 21st Century face of classical music?

Gustavo Dudamel is the focus of the latest Y! News 60 Minutes segment. He is a 27-year-old prodigy who has been appointed to be the next music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. That’s quite extraordinary, and an achievement on par with the likes of Mozart and Beethoven. And if some of what has been written in the press is to be believed, Dudamel just might be able to stand next to that kind of company (although as a conductor, not composer).

Dudamel’s story brings up two very interesting points.

Dudamel credits his success to the fact that growing up in Venezuela, he benefited from free musical education which is offered to many of the most disadvantaged children of the country. That prompted this comment from one of our readers:

“I love the idea of the music program in the schools…america has gotten away from music and art in most elementary/middle schools because of budget constraints…makes me wonder how many talented artists/musicians are getting away from us.”

I wonder if this reader might be right. Are we losing generations of future Dudamels as we speak – let alone the generations of music lovers, concert goers and donors? It is a stark reality in the U.S. that if you want to seriously study music, you must have money for private instruction. Public school programs – with some rare exceptions – just can’t bring promising young talent up to conservatory level and beyond. And at that, public universities – again, with exceptions – can’t meet that challenge either.

And then there is the youth aspect to Dudamel’s story. In her 60 Minutes interview, the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s CEO Deborah Borda said this about Dudamel in the context of why he was chosen as the next music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic:

“Gustavo has an ability to communicate what is passionate and vital about music in a very 21st Century way.”

A cynical interpretation of what Ms. Borda said might be that Dudamel’s youth and infectious vigor might be just what the Los Angeles Philharmonic needs in this era of social networking, youth focus, high-speed communication, and a desperate need to reach out for a younger audience that hasn’t been cultivated.

And so I wonder, if Dudamel was older, would he still have gotten the job? I hope so.

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