I have an untrained ear when it comes to music, so I was happy to have a seat high above the orchestra at Disney Hall yesterday, from which I could watch the action for the 75 minutes of Gustav Mahler's Sixth Symphony. The L.A. Philharmonic was conducted by Gustavo Dudamel.
Interesting, the association of these two Gustav/os (regular readers might remember the importance I attach to names...) The LA Times music critic Mark Swed noted in a review of a performance of the same symphony last week that Dudamel "is becoming a great Mahlerian," and "thus far the only musician to have binge-conducted" the composer. By the end of one recent concert, Swed noted, the conductor "seemed on the verge of incoherence, his ego and Mahler's joined." See what I mean? The two Gustav/os.
Our own Gustavo certainly gave the orchestra a fine workout yesterday, and it was a pleasure to watch him in action at the podium. No score. I hear he has the entire Mahler opus committed to memory. No rail behind him, as conductors often use, presumably as a safety measure. So there was nothing between him and his orchestra, and nothing between him and the audience, which I read as something of a statement in itself. I liked the way, too, at the end, in response to the thunderous ovation, Dudamel was more eager to give credit to the players than to receive any for himself. No elaborate bows to the audience on his part. No fist bumps. When the applause absolutely required him to return, he walked back in amongst the instrumentalists, raising soloists in turn for the applause, then the entire ensemble. And walked back offstage with only a modest wave of the hand to his standing crowd of fans.
As for the music... well, I did enjoy the drama of it, at dramatic moments. I did enjoy those passages where the rhythm or the melody took over, sometimes obsessively. I enjoyed the many notes of doom, the cymbal crashes, the thunder of the kettle drums. In other words, I suppose, the obvious parts. But as always at a classical concert, my ear missed the more subtle progression of musical motifs and themes, particularly in this extremely lengthy piece of work. And there were times, I must admit, when I got lost in the sheer, bewildering noise of it. But then I could always come back to the thrill of watching the instrumentalists at work. And the conductor...
It's not merely a matter of attention, for me, when listening to music. The attention wanders, of course, as it always tends to do. The mind is always busy, heading off at tangents. But no, when it comes to music, it's not just the lack of attention, it's the lack of informed attention that stands between me and a full surrender to the enjoyment of the moment. My mind is busy trying to grasp what it is I'm hearing... and inevitably it always lies beyond my grasp.