Gustavo Dudamel, the gifted Venezuelan conductor, inspired the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra to give a thrilling performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 at Carnegie Hall on Sunday afternoon. The excitement created by Dudamel and the orchestra contrasted sharply with the obscure and solemn Bernstein pieces on the first half of the program. No matter; the audience started applauding before the final notes of the Tchaikovsky reached the back of the hall. Boisterous cheering followed. Dudamel and the orchestra responded with two encores, and the conductor finally had to take the hand of the concertmaster and lead the orchestra off the stage. That was a great way to end a memorable performance.
Impressive is way that Dudamel embodies the music. It seems to vibrate through him. Somehow he is able to channel that energy and his musical ideas to the orchestra and the audience. It’s the real deal. Also, his stick technique is very clear and also inspiring. He didn’t use a score, and his cues were spot on.
Of course, Dudamel has probably conducted this Tchaikovsky symphony hundreds of times, but he didn’t slack off anywhere. He also didn’t overconduct. That is, during the very fast pizzicato section, he applied minimal directions to great effect. The finale went by exceptionally fast, too. It as like a Ferrari with the peddle to the floor. The near out-of-control-ness was about as good as it gets.
On the first half of the concert, the orchestra played Bernstein’s flute concerto “Halil.” Eyal Ein-Habar was the featured soloist, and gentle tones that he created were soothing, but could not remedy the aloof quality of this piece.
Bernstein’s Concerto for Orchestra, “Jubilee Games,” had more variety. The second movement, “Mixed Doubles,” featured some odd pairings, such as trumpet and bass, and clarinet and trombone. The last movement featured baritone David McFerrin who intoned some reflective thoughts from the Bible. Even though Dudamel and the orchestra performed this piece impeccably, it had a limited emotional arc and never seemed to go very far.
So, the Tchaikovsky became the high point, and after the encores (the Intermezzo from “Manon Lescaut” and a rendition of a popular folksong from Latin America) Dudamel tried to get the concertmaster to stand, but he refused and then the orchestra broke out in spontaneous applause for Dudamel. The genuine exchange of warmth between the orchestra and conductor was an inspiration, and added to the positive atmosphere at the end of the concert.