Last spring, when the Los Angeles Philharmonic had to pick its next music director, it hired a man whom the American public has hardly heard of and orchestras around the world were slavering over: the 26-year-old Gustavo Dudamel. What made the choice striking is that Dudamel has accumulated most of his experience with not a great European institution but a youth orchestra in his native Venezuela. Handsome, vibrant, almost preposterously youthful, and crowned by a kinetic set of curls, he seems perfectly cast as a golden boy. Those same qualities start a skeptic’s antennae quivering, but those who’ve heard him live—or played under him—report that the sheer force of his talent is electrifying. A hint of his gifts can be gleaned from his recording of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra with the L.A. Philharmonic (it’s available on iTunes).
New Yorkers will be able to hear what so beguiled Los Angeles when Dudamel makes his local debut at Carnegie Hall, with the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela. That group is not just Dudamel’s home team: It’s a national force, the center of a network of hundreds of ensembles formed to rescue Venezuela’s street kids by giving each an instrument and a purpose. More than a quarter-million children annually pass through the organization, which has produced a few world-class musicians, including Edicson Ruiz, a bassist hired by the Berlin Philharmonic when he was only 17, as well as the comparatively aged Dudamel.