We sat perhaps 100 to 150 feet away from Gustavo Dudamel at the Hollywood Bowl last night, watching as he whipped his wiry, pale-skinned little body around the stage like dancer whose DNA somehow got mixed up with Lieutenant Commander Data from Star Trek.

I wanted to snack on my brie-and-figs picnic, but you almost couldn't take your eyes away.

The most amazing moment last night, by far, was when YOLA (Youth Orchestra Los Angeles), who were recruited from tough areas including gang-ridden South Central, performed Beethoven. Dudamel almost physically dragged these gifted-but-clearly-a-ways-to-go neophytes through the piece. It was incredible to watch him — and them.

Yes, you could hear a bit of discord, a few instruments coming in late, that

sort of thing. But it was gorgeous — and at the

triumphant ending, as the final notes rang out, the childrens' mostly working class parents, sitting right up front in poolside seats that normally probably cost $100 or $200, absolutely ERUPTED with glee.


audience roared too. It was more fun than the Hollywood Bowl night a few years ago when David

Byrne sang a bunch of his Talking Heads classics amidst a team of marching girls twirling batons, and it was even more uplifting than seeing Yo-Yo Ma several weeks ago at the Bowl.

Do you recall a scene from

The Music Man, when the untrained kids manage to play a wild tune and the parents

are sent straight to Heaven? Well, these kids under Dudamel last night could actually play, and a few more years of practice will put them into the running for some amazing careers.

Dudamel — who made some brief remarks in English but said he's far more comfortable speaking Spanish —  has brought El Sistema's philosophy from his native Venezuela, the idea being that kids get their own instruments and start playing as early as possible, no matter how poor or disadvantaged they may be.

Oh, and Jack Black, Andy Garcia and John Williams were all charming and gracious as they praised the kids. The Los Angeles Times said 18,000 people were hooting and cheering, but that would have been a nearly full house. I was there, and it was not full. Nothing wrong with that, but why do the local papers have to fake the numbers? It was closer to 15,000.

Still, the night was huge, and the crowd was delighted.

LA Weekly