Thursday, August 25, 2011

Did you even attend the same concert?

I can't remember now why it was that I decided I didn't want to watch Gustavo Dudamel's Mahler 2 with the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra when it was on TV. I just wasn't in the mood at the time. Oh, I wish I had seen it now, just so I could have an opinion about it. Yes, I am late to this story but I was on holidays for a couple of weeks. I think BBC Four might be showing it again on Sunday, but how can I approach it objectively now, seeing as I already know it was rubbish or brilliant, depending on who I believe.
This is a great one for the whole debate over the value of criticism. Dudamel seems to divide critics, as there is a lot of media enthusiasm about him that some feel may not be justified, but at the same time it may be drawing new audiences into classical music, which is good, but then again maybe it's at the expense of other more talented musicians, but then again maybe Dudamel is actually a cut above the rest and... It's quite a dilemma, I'm sure you'll agree. So you can adopt any one of several stances regarding Dudamel. Not just "he's totally overhyped" but "he shows great promise that hasn't yet been fulfilled", or "he's doing too much too soon", or "OMG he's so wonderful I want his babies and he makes me want to MAMBO!!1!" From a Nereffid's Guide point of view, perhaps in terms of reviews of his recordings he doesn't fare any better or worse than any other young conductor, but he seems to be scrutinized that little bit more, by both supporters and detractors, and so opinions are a little stronger. Anything you say about Dudamel has to be done in the context of justifying your opinion of him. So if you don't like his new CD, this supports your claim that he's overhyped, or explains why you're ambivalent about his success; if you like it, well, that proves you were right to think he's a great conductor, or helps to resolve some of your ambivalence. What it boils down to for Dudamel is that he's unlikely to win a Nereffid's Guide Award anytime soon.
Anyway, back to the Mahler concert at the Proms. The Guardian's Guy Dammann gave the performance five stars, prompting accusations of editorial bias from Pliable at On An Overgrown Path, who cited Geoff Brown's "curate's egg" review as a more accurate reflection of reality. (Incidentally, when claiming "consensus", are you allowed cite just one thing? And can you claim to be "at" a concert if you were in fact listening to it at home on the radio?) Me, I'm a little suspicious of both reviews, not being familiar with either reviewer: Dammann's a little too gushy, Brown's rather too smug. Dammann acquitted himself well in response to Pliable, though:
Finally, you ask in your last comment for balanced Guardian articles about Dudamel. I would argue that my article is balanced, but I think what you mean is an article expressing only moderate enthusiasm.
Indeed. If only everyone thought exactly the same way I do, there would be no bias!
As you might expect from comments about an opinion expressed on the Internet, the comments on Dammann's review generate plenty heat and sod-all light, but I love this one:
Well, I enjoyed it anyway - just as well I know nothing about music, otherwise I guess, from comments above, I might not have enjoyed it half as much.
That is pretty much the official Les Introuvables de Nereffid policy on responding to all musical performances.

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