Profiles in Courage
Until today's news that 26-year-old Gustavo Dudamel would be taking the reins of the L.A. Phil, I didn't think there was anything an American orchestra could do that would surprise me quite this much. Well, let's rephrase that. I didn't think there was anything that would fill me with such awe at an orchestra's sheer fearlessness (as opposed to thinking, "Jeez, I would never have guessed that even [exec's name here] could come up with something this bone-headed").
Awe, and also a bit of unease. This is a kid, fer chrissake — and after 15 minutes of genius they're going to toss him the keys to the van and say, "Here, you drive now"? How good could that Tchaikovsky Five at the Hollywood Bowl have been? How good does the Tchaikovsky Five get?
It's the kind of thing that makes you want to mutter, "I sure hope you folks know what you're doing" — if not for the fact that Deborah Borda, the L.A. Phil's executive director, is someone who knows exactly what she's doing. And so a decision that might have seemed entirely dubious coming from any number of other administrators becomes an insanely, excitingly bold step in a new direction.
Really, the joke's on me. Like a lot of people, I've been whining for years about orchestras that make safe, obvious, overly pasteurized decisions. And now that the Phil has decided to take a big blind leap into the semi-unknown — to take a risk that's truly worthy of the name — it's like that bluff has been called. I can't wait to see how it all shakes out.