Dueñas, Los Angeles Philharmonic & Dudamel – Barcelona 2024 – Special Article

On Tuesday, May 28th, the prestigious Los Angeles Philharmonic led by Gustavo Dudamel visited the Palau de la Música Catalana in Barcelona, Spain, and together with violinist María Dueñas, performed a special concert with works by Williams, Ortiz, and Dvorak (read more).


Our colleague Coque Cano was there and leaves us here an extensive special article exclusively for SoundTrackFest.

Dueñas, Los Angeles Philharmonic & Dudamel - Barcelona 2024



The recent (and growing) acceptance that film music is having in the classical music circuits has been the subject of more than a few comments in the articles that we have been publishing in SoundTrackFest. The great orchestras and the most important halls, which until not too long ago were quite hermetic with respect to film music, are gradually opening up, thanks largely to various personalities of classical music who have also grown up appreciating the quality of film composers.


One of these figures is the maestro Gustavo Dudamel, undoubtedly the conductor with the greatest projection and popularity in recent years and a worldwide phenomenon, who has not only given a good account of the most representative works of classical music of all times, but has also become one of the great supporters and enthusiasts of the work of John Williams, both in thematic concerts dedicated to the New York Maestro, of whom he is a personal friend, and by integrating his works in non-film programs.

Dueñas, Los Angeles Philharmonic & Dudamel - Barcelona 2024 - Gustavo Dudamel


As an example of the great connection between the two musicians is the series of concerts that, together with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, of which Dudamel has been principal conductor, have taken place in the legendary Walt Disney Concert Hall (home of the LA Phil) and Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. Special mention to the wonderful blu ray edition under the title “A John Williams Celebration” of the opening night concert of the Los Angeles Philharmonic 2014/2015 season, with the guest performance of Itzhak Perlman and Dudamel at the baton, and also to the CD edition by Deustche Gramophon: “Celebrating John Williams”.


The truth is that rarely has Williams’ music sounded so close to the composer’s spirit as under the baton of the Venezuelan conductor, who has not hesitated to speak of the maestro’s work as “the soundtrack of our lives”.


For this reason, and because Dudamel’s simple visit is an unmissable event, the concert we are discussing in this article turned out to be so memorable. Thus, last Tuesday, May 28, 2024, we had the enormous privilege of receiving at the Palau de la Música Catalana both this great figure of music and the LA Phil, in addition to the presence of one of today’s most fashionable violinists, the Granada-born María Dueñas.

Dueñas, Los Angeles Philharmonic & Dudamel - Barcelona 2024 - (c) Coque Cano


If these credentials were not already enough to attend an event of this magnitude with our eyes closed, the truth is that we also had one last incentive waiting, as the program incorporated at the beginning the “Olympic fanfare and theme” written by John Williams for the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, something on the other hand very well spun given that this is an Olympic year, on the verge of the 33rd edition of the Games to be held in Paris, of whose Opera Gustavo Dudamel is currently the chief conductor.

Dueñas, Los Angeles Philharmonic & Dudamel - Barcelona 2024 - (c) Coque Cano


As we said, the concert had a brilliant start with the famous fanfare and theme of the 1984 Olympics, which sounded impeccable with special mention for a brass section that showed that we were in front of a great orchestra, also very accustomed to performing works by John Williams, which usually require as in this case an overexertion of the aforementioned section. Dudamel enjoyed and made the audience enjoy with his usual verve and electricity at the music stand, giving this masterful piece all its power and splendor. I already had the opportunity to enjoy it in concert, with Williams at the baton, and of course this time it sounded like never before.


Certainly the audience that attended the Palau was not composed of film music fans or connoisseurs of the career of John Williams (there was some ignorance even of who he was), which did not prevent this prodigious fanfare to be appreciated and cheered with a resounding applause, usual tonic on the other hand throughout the concert.


After this declaration of intent and love for the maestro’s music by the South American conductor, the first part of the program continued with the Spanish premiere of the violin concerto “Altar de Cuerda” written in 2021 by the Mexican composer Gabriela Ortiz commissioned by the LA Phil. Performed sublimely by the virtuoso violinist María Dueñas, whom the author had in mind to write this work after Gustavo Dudamel‘s own recommendation, this seventh concerto of what she calls “altars” (without the religious meaning of the word, but tending more to the concept of spirituality), was a real discovery, with three distinct parts entitled “Morisco chilango” (fast), “Maya Déco” (slow) and “Canto abierto” (fast), respectively, which follow the classic three-movement structure.


The language of this fabulous concerto is certainly fascinating and beyond the virtuosity that forces the violin soloist to maintain concentration, especially in the third movement that contains an impressive solo and a jaw-dropping technical difficulty, and surprises by its proverbial use of the orchestra and especially the percussion section. The truth is that, being the least known work of the repertoire (at least in my case), it was a major surprise while the interpretation of María Dueñas was agile, perfect and exciting in its execution, a display of talent.

Dueñas, Los Angeles Philharmonic & Dudamel - Barcelona 2024 - María Dueñas (c) Toni Bofill


Before the end of the first part, the violinist re-entered after the well-deserved applause, giving to a devoted Palau and without Dudamel at the lectern (thus leaving all the protagonism to the virtuoso soloist), a last piece in which she was not accompanied by the orchestra. She interpreted in an almost introspective way, with sensitivity, a popular song entitled “Chant de Veslemöy”, written by the Norwegian composer and violinist Johan Halvorsen. Apparently, this 1908 arrangement for solo violin was recently rediscovered among the archives of the Canadian violinist Kathleen Parlow and rescued by María Dueñas, who does not hesitate to introduce it as an encore in her concerts, as she did at the Musikverein in Vienna last January (by the way, in a concert where “Orawa” by Wojciech Kilar was performed).


With this emotional ending, an intermission followed in which Dueñas herself came out to the hall to sign copies of her publishing debut with Deustche Gramophon, the CD “Beethoven and beyond”, and to have photographs taken with the concert attendees.


The second part of the evening was completely occupied by the famous “Symphony No. 9 in E minor Op. 95”, better known as “of the New World”, composed by the Bohemian composer Antonin Dvorák during his stay in the United States in 1893. Undoubtedly the highlight for most of the attendees at the Palau, among which were figures of Catalan music as the maestro Albert Guinovart, prolific composer and author of classical music, musicals such as the wonderful “Mar i Cel” and many of the soundtracks of the Catalan regional television, or Marc Timón, a regular in the articles of SoundTrackFest both as director of film music concerts or as film composer, with whom we could chat before and after the concert.

Dueñas, Los Angeles Philharmonic & Dudamel - Barcelona 2024 - (c) Coque Cano


As much has already been written about this masterpiece of music and it is deservedly the greatest attraction for any concert, but it is worth noting that with Gustavo Dudamel conducting the LA Phil, this timeless classic shone in all its splendor, with a masterful interpretation, full of nuances, with all the power and finesse required, always exciting. The different solos scattered throughout this jewel received the treatment and sensitivity they demanded, from the initial piccolo, to the tuba or the English horn, all of them supported by the orchestra and with the precise, subtle, and energetic instructions of Dudamel, who demonstrated why he has reached the top of his profession.


An absolute joy that was well worth the high price of the tickets, and that justified the “sold out” that was hung without any difficulty by the Palau. A master concert that still had one last great surprise in store for us.

Dueñas, Los Angeles Philharmonic & Dudamel - Barcelona 2024 - (c) Coque Cano


The conductor went in and out on several occasions to the thunderous ovation of the audience, although always with humility, situated among the musicians whom he made protagonists of the success achieved, until he decided that it was time to take the baton again, to climb back to the lectern and conduct one last piece: a personal encore for him, which was also for the orchestra and that he certainly wanted, he hoped, that it was also for the public.


This was the only time he wanted to take the floor, explaining that he was going to offer a piece by someone he and the LA Phil consider a friend, a piece that the public would undoubtedly know, realizing at that very moment that there was no need for introductions, so he preferred that the music would be the one to present itself.


Then came that magic to which we film music fans are more accustomed and that rarely a less accustomed audience can experience in a classic concert of this category. The first chords of “Raiders march” composed by John Williams for “Raiders of the lost ark” were played and as soon as the brass came in with Indy’s theme, the buzz and excitement in the hall was already unstoppable. Williams had done it again, and no less than after a stratospheric interpretation of Dvorák’s magnum opus and before an atmosphere less prone to “diversions” such as this resounding and unequaled march.

Dueñas, Los Angeles Philharmonic & Dudamel - Barcelona 2024 - (c) Toni Bofill


Needless to say, it sounded like never before, sublimated by a Venezuelan conductor who idolizes it and it shows, who feels it and so conducts it, with passion, even at times with a certain martial style, gesturing the piece at its peak as if he himself were in front of the percussion section. A complete madness and demonstration of respect for a composer who values and wants to be valued in his rightful measure, also in the most select circuits of classical music.


The final ovation gave him (gave us) the reason, it was the last stone of a road that begins to be downhill, the realization that, in a metaphor impossible to avoid, we are facing the symphony of a new world where authors like maestro Williams share a table with geniuses like Dvorák.


Article by Coque Cano

Pictures by Toni Bofill/Palau de la Música & Coque Cano