Gustavo Dudamel Gets Vienna Philharmonic Jumping in Dance Music

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Just as New Yorkers flock to outdoor concerts in the city's parks each summer, the Viennese have an emerging tradition of their own: a free open-air show in the baroque gardens of the Schönbrunn Palace. In June, the Vienna Philharmonic presented its tenth annual summer concert there, with a program that revolved around two themes: “dance at the opera” and Claude Debussy, whose 150th birthday is being celebrated this year.

The performance, which is just out on both CD and a DVD, captures the unlikely chemistry between a conductor and orchestra that would seem incompatible on first glance. On one hand, there’s the Vienna Philharmonic, a 170-year-old institution known for its staunchly traditional sound, staid audiences and steep membership requirements (its hiring practices towards women members remain a point of contention – more on that shortly). Then there’s Gustavo Dudamel, the world's hottest young maestro, a 32-year-old Venezuelan who is now making a splash in glitzy Los Angeles.

The two somehow find common ground here, particularly in several Russian chestnuts: Tchaikovsky’s Polonaise from Eugene Onegin, Mussorgsky’s Dance of the Persian Slaves from Khovanschchina and Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor. Dudamel particularly turns up the heat in the Dance of the Seven Veils from Strauss’s Salome and gets the orchestra to dance (figuratively) in an encore by Spanish zarzuela composer Jerónimo Giménez.

Of the two formats, the DVD is the far more revealing concert snapshot: For one, it features ballet students from the Vienna State Opera Ballet School dancing to several selections (including an elegant romp through the palace's fountains in Debussy’s La Mer). The sweeping tracking shots flatter the dramatically lit palace grounds and special focus seems to be placed on several women orchestra members. A P.R. strategy on the orchestra’s part? Hard to say, but it’s a visual feast nonetheless, which is not something you can say about many orchestral DVDs.

"Dances and Waves"
Vienna Philharmonic
Gustavo Dudamel
Available at Arkivmusic.com