Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela/Dudamel – Bartók & Tchaikovsky

Concerto for Orchestra
Symphony No.4 in F minor, Op.36

Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela
Gustavo Dudamel

Reviewed by: Alex Verney-Elliott

Reviewed: 14 April, 2009
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Gustavo DudamelThe Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela is arguably one of the greatest orchestras in the world today. The 180 players, aged between 16 to 24, produced an overwhelming intensity of mesmerising sounds rarely, if ever, heard in the still-dry acoustic of the Royal Festival Hall. It is therefore not surprising that tickets for the Orchestra’s concerts have been selling for considerably more than the box-office price. What is striking about the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra is its maturity, virtuosity and total commitment. The sheer depth, weight and lushness of string playing-alone is astonishing.

Gustavo Dudamel’s conducting of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra was impressive in his appreciation of the composer’s eerie and acidic soundworld, the SBYO playing in a style that is appropriately metallic, grainy and rugged style. Dudamel did not treat Bartók’s score as a meretricious showpiece but played it with austerity and brooding, the orchestra sounding not unlike the Mravinsky-era Leningrad Philharmonic in sheer weight and darkness of tone, aided by there being 42 violins and 12 double basses, the latter exuding such vitality and energy.

Tchaikovsky 4 was immaculately played, the brass shining through, the double basses once again a granular presence. The only irritating aspect of Dudamel’s interpretation was his perverse slowing, Celibidache-like, for lyrical passages in the first movement that broke the line and the concentration. In the third movement Dudamel nodded cues rather than conducting the pizzicato strings. The finale was a volcanic eruption of energy, the orchestra exploding into torrents of intensity, the closing bars bringing the house down.

The players then exchanged their dark jackets for ones sporting their national colours for jazzy encores by Ginastera and Bernstein given in a carnival atmosphere to complete an evening of truly inspired music-making, conductor and orchestra united as a life-enhancing and awe-inspiring force.

  • Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra in Southbank Centre residency from 14-18 April and including symposia and other events
  • Royal Festival Hall concerts on 17 April (at 9.30 p.m.) and 18 April (at 7.30)

  • Southbank Centre

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