Apologies to Walt Whitman.
"Everything you can't teach about music, he knows." Daniel Barenboim on Lang Lang, Time Out Chicago, July 7, 2005.
Gustavo Dudamel already "knows everything one cannot learn about music." Daniel Barenboim, Gramophone via Playbill, July 26, 2006.
I won't hear Mahler's First Symphony led by Gustavo Dudamel until Tuesday night, but given the stories of people unable to sleep following the past weekend's concert, it ought to be a doozy. It seems only appropriate that such a walking-on-water concert took place on Easter weekend, when it was also announced that he will succeed—not replace—Esa-Pekka Salonen as the Los Angeles Philharmonic's music director in 2009.
Last Thursday, I headed to the industrial Zhou B. Center for the first night of Opera Cabal. This three-day festival of new music and film is yet more evidence of the unbounded curiosity of young audiences. The festival's announcements went out less than a week in advance, and yet a passionate crowd of 75 or so found their way to this barren stretch of the city, in yet another region of Chicago poorly served by public transportation.
Australian flutist Kathleen Gallagher turned in a riveting performance of Michael Finnissy's daunting Sikangnuga, for solo flute. Packed to the keyholes with awkward leaps and grace notes and those lovely demarcations which scream "New Complexity" such as 8:5 inside 11, Gallagher still made its multiple contrasting sections stand out. Near the end of the 10-minute piece, the performer is asked to sing an accompaniment around the played notes, which Gallagher carried off to great effect.
Chicago composer Kirsten Broberg's works take neo-Modernity as a starting point, reflecting her time spent as a student of Augusta Read Thomas as Northwestern. Broberg's Opening showed a more lyrical side, with young soprano Linden Christ caressing the ee cummings-derived text. Francesco Milioto led the small contingent of strings, woodwinds and piano in the thrumming accompaniment. Despite new-music superstar soprano Tony Arnold waiting in the wings, Christ was unperturbed and sang with purity and superb intonation. Consider this a more angular take on Barber's Knoxville, Summer of 1915, and Christ a baby Dawn Upshaw.
Tony Arnold then stepped out for Sciarrino's Infinito Nero, a depiction of a nun experiencing ecstasy and rapture. The Italian texts whoosh by quietly from a shocked singer. The mental dislocation she's undergoing locks everyone inside the madhouse, a space Arnold vividly created. Conductor Nicholas DeMaison, who will attend this summer's Lucerne Festival Academy's Masterclass in Conducting, held the clicking woodwinds and string harmonics together well, and is the only conductor I know of with four earrings in his left ear.
Not to get terribly absolutist and set into an either/or mindset, but was this concert, with a small audience and a cast of relative unknowns, worth seeing if it meant missing a "once in a generation event," as Andrew Patner, one not normally given to hyperbole, described Dudamel's CSO debut, or the cross between Bernstein and Barenboim, as John von Rhein dubbed him? Yes, it was, unless you believe that the number of zeros in an IRS filing determines musical worth.