Back in the proverbial day, the designation “maestro” meant teacher first, and leader second. Over time, however, the term somehow merged to mean leader of orchestras.
These days, just about everyone who waves a stick in front of an orchestra is called “maestro.” It’s a fitting description for some conductors: others, not so much.
Gustavo Dudamel is a Maestro… not a “maestro.” At the too young age of 32, Dudamel has already earned the original and honored distinction of Maestro with his electric, awe inspiring concert performances and recordings, and for his role and accomplishments as a teacher and role model for musicians, music lovers and those who administer and fund music in cities worldwide. And he’s got charisma and charm up the wazoo to boot, being called “the Classical world’s answer to Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson.” Search for “Dudamel Mambo” on YouTube to experience it.
Off the podium, there’s something about Dudamel that is endearing. He shows who he is as a person. For example, when it’s time to bow, he does not stand ten feet in front of the orchestra. He takes his bows while standing inside the orchestra – within the second row of the violins and violas. He’s a member of the band. If you’re seated in the balcony, you might miss him when the music ends because he just simply blends in.
In talking about the orchestras he conducts, he says, “we’re a team,” and he means it.
I’ve been working at SiriusXM for almost three years, and from day one, it was my goal to bring Gustavo Dudamel to the satellite, and introduce him to subscribers. Letters and emails were sent, phone calls made, proposals were drafted, edited, edited… and edited some more, and then sent off. Those efforts morphed into official discussions. Then we waited, and waited and…
One afternoon, out of the blue on an especially gray Washington, DC day, Olga from Universal Music called and said, “We have one possible date for Gustavo if you’re still interested.” I immediately said “yes,” and then wiped up the spilled coffee and attempted to salvage the soggy papers on my desk. “He’s available for sixty minutes on March 26, and then he’s out the door.”
Cut to March 26. He arrives relaxed, friendly and earlier than expected. He meets the moderator, actor David Hyde Pierce in the Green Room and they hit it off right away. I observed and became mesmerized by their discussion: they talked about how he communicates with young orchestras and veteran orchestras; his strategy is shocking. “It’s simple,” he says. “It all begins with respect. They were there first; I talk to them with respect.”
I gave David Hyde Pierce a sharp look, hoping he has ESP – wanting him to feel me communicating, “Please save it for the show.”
The show begins, and that Green Room discussion continues seamlessly. He talks about his accidental first encounter with Mahler; he looks back on the early days of his tenure with the LA Philharmonic, when “the orchestra was like a beautiful girl.”