Daniel Rothmuller
has been a member of the L.A. Philharmonic’s cello section since the 1970-’71 season, and associate principal cellist since 1975. That means he has played under Zubin Mehta, Carlo Maria Giulini, André Previn and Esa-Pekka Salonen, and is in fit qualification to get a handle on the orchestra’s music-director-designate, Gustavo Dudamel. I asked him to talk about how an orchestral musician judges an incoming conductor, and how that relationship builds (or doesn’t build) over the years.

“It doesn’t take much time,” he says, “and it doesn’t take many words. Whether it’s a new conductor, like Dudamel, or someone we’ve worked with for years, words are the most useless part of the communication process between the conductor and the orchestra. Take Giulini. Everything he wanted to tell us about the music, the interpretive magic of everything he played, was in the look in his eyes. André’s great failing was exactly his inability to make eye contact. His best work came when he was conducting from the piano, in a concerto or in chamber music; then he could reach out to the other players, but not from the podium.

(Photo by Kevin Scanlon)

“Zubin? You had to keep your eyes on him every moment! We had trouble with Esa-Pekka at the start; it took him a while to learn about eye contact, but now he’s got it.

“People don’t acquire talent; they’re born with it, and then they acquire technique. The reason Gustavo has come on so strong with the whole orchestra is his fantastic ability to connect with everybody. That’s because he has acquired so much technique so soon, and knows how to use it. He seems to do everything so easily, so naturally. And he did this the first time, at the Bowl, with almost no English in his vocabulary. He’s only now making his way. We’ve all loved him from the start.”