LOS ANGELES If classical music can still create a palpable buzz in modern-day Los Angeles, the L.A. Philharmonic's new music director, Gustavo Dudamel, has summoned that energy in town. The phil welcomed the incoming Dudamel for the young conductor's inaugural concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall Thursday night, and surrounded the festivities with lavish receptions and a gala that highlighted Dudamel's native Venezuela through multisensory experiences for guests. The gala committee included chair David C. Bohnett, Allen Brill, Margaret Eberhardt, Kimberly Marteau Emerson, Lenore Greenberg, Joan Hotchkis, Sherry Lansing, Ginny Mancini, Merle Mullin, Jane Nathanson, Carolyn Powers, Carla Sands, Elizabeth Segerstrom, and Alyce Williamson. Gai Klass—who had coincidentally returned from a trip to Peru when she secured the contract for the gala—produced and designed the Latin-inspired event.
“We began forming our gala committee a year in advance,” said the philharmonic's vice president of development, Tim Landi. ”The introduction of a new music director already garnering international buzz in the music world inspired us to give a special fresh focus to this year’s event. We were indeed hoping that we would be reaching and attracting a larger audience, both here in L.A. and perhaps across the continents and oceans. That wish came true—we attracted more than 800 gala patrons and sold as many seats to the general public.” Landi explained that the biggest challenge in planning the event was estimating what affect the downturn in the economy would have on fund-raising goals. “So one of the real highlights was the day we were able to announce to our gala committee that we had exceed our very ambitious fund-raising goal," he said.
Two receptions preceded the 7 p.m. concert, which included the world premiere of the specially commissioned City Noir by John Adams, and concluded with Dudamel conducting Mahler’s First Symphony. The concert was recorded for delayed national and international telecast; the PBS telecast was produced by Bernhard Fleischer Moving Images, Thirteen for WNET.org, and the phil for the performing arts series Great Performances. It was also simulcast on Music Center Plaza for a crowd of 3,000.
Following the concert, the festivities continued on Grand Avenue, closed to traffic for the evening, with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, and dinner and dancing. “We created a pan-Latin theme in honor of Dudamel,” said Klass, who added that she had been enthralled by Peru's marketplaces and architecture. Among the event's production standouts were a hot pink arrivals carpet and flamenco quartet; Brazilian drummers and capoeiristas; bougainvillea climbing the bars; set walls that looked like buildings lining a Latin street; and a Carnival-inspired aerialist performance at the gala after the concert. ”Then just rousing, crazy, fabulous dancing and fun and partying for the rest of the evening,” Klass said. Images by Lighting lit the building's iconic exterior in highly saturated colors and patterns, some static and some moving, for extra drama.
Chef Joachim Splichal of the Patina Group created a menu built upon a Latin theme, which included passed hors d’oeuvres like crispy cones filled with grilled chicken, pickled onions, and cilantro cream; braised beef short rib bites; and arepas stuffed with shredded beef ragout. Dinner consisted of sautéed prawns with paprika, piquillos, eggplant, lime, garlic milk, and crostini, followed by an entree of marinated filet of beef with chiles papas rellenas served with chickpea, mango, corn, and pepper salsa; and a dessert of torta de queso with cinnamon, plantain-colada ice cream, and mojito sorbet with coco nibs. Gallo Family Vineyards provided the wines.
“Color, rhythm, and certainly the spice of life—this is what I think really came together for this gala as envisioned by Gai Klass when she was asked to bring a hip, pan-Latin sensibility to the event,” Landi said. “Her designers created a virtual Latin square in the center of Grand Avenue, complete with cobblestones, a movie-set village surrounding it, and all open to the sky. And of course, Joachim Splichal simply outdid himself in creating a superbly sophisticated and intriguing menu.”
Rolex sponsored the gala. All proceeds will support the education programs of the philharmonic, including Youth Orchestra L.A., Dudamel's signature program.
“I became really inspired by Dudamel when he first came to L.A.,” said Klass, referring to a welcome party two years ago at the home of L.A. Philharmonic Association board chairman Bohnett. ”The energy that he had when the band was playing—I remember standing there at the end of the evening and I had tears coming out of my eyes and down my face because it was just so magical. This gala was larger than life because of [Dudamel]; he is such an amazing energy and people love him so much. He makes us all just inspired and happy.”
As to the importance of the event to L.A.'s cultural landscape, Landi said, “This is an incredibly diverse city, but whatever one’s background, all great moments in life require acknowledgment. For individuals, these might be births, weddings, and the seasons of the year. The Gustavo Dudamel inaugural gala is, in a manner of speaking, all three of these events for the L.A. phil and for Los Angeles as a whole. It is the birth of a new era in the phil’s history. It also formally celebrates the partnership between a great orchestra and a great conductor. At the phil, we commemorate the beginning of the season at Walt Disney Concert Hall with this celebration. This is now an event that takes place for the entire community.”