The monumental sound and the forcefulness in character that Gustavo Dudamel manages to imprint on the orchestras he has conducted has been long discussed. It is almost a signature; a revolution in an orchestral world more generally interested in what is correct and traditional. With such resources, the iconic LA Philharmonic conductor, and also the skilful Venezuela’s Sistema de Orquestas Sinfónicas musical director, came into scene to conduct the second Binational Concert, with the participation of the Simon Bolivar Symphonic Orchestra of Venezuela, the Bogota Philharmonic Orchestra, the Opera Choir of Colombia, the Santa Cecilia Choral Society and the Youth Philharmonic Choir.

Gustavo Dudamel and the musicians from OSSB and Filarmónica de Bogotá © Teatro Mayor Julio Mario Santo Domingo
Gustavo Dudamel and the musicians from OSSB and Filarmónica de Bogotá
© Teatro Mayor Julio Mario Santo Domingo

Two incidental pieces opened a concert characterized by forcefulness and energy: the Egmont Overture composed by Beethoven for a theatrical play with same name, and The Liberator Suite composed by Dudamel for Alberto Arvelo's Libertador movie. Egmont was radical: orchestral mass and the right direction of musical ideas managed to build a tidy and strong sound. The SBSO and BPO gave a performance of the overture which I would wish to repeat many times. The orchestras were coupled, connected and focused, responding to Dudamel closely.

Dudamel was clear when he said the Liberator Suite was simple. In the five numbers played on Monday, we listened to long melodic lines and wide supporting episodes, which were clearly built to go alongside images. I believe that the addition of visuals would serve the piece a lot better. The flute melodies, the Miserere and the percussion shine in this work. The beautiful flute fragments recreate an aboriginal environment that Katherine Rivas managed to build from a set of effects and a mouthpiece, which imitates the resulting sound from the diverse flutes used by the famous Venezuelan flautist Pedro Eustache in the recorded version. The miserere, an a capella movement, made a virtue from simplicity; in it, the voices mixed and confronted themselves using beautiful appoggiaturas and delays. The music composed by Dudamel has beautiful melodies, interesting character switches and is very well orchestrated, but as a concert piece it has a different impact from the one it gets as a companion to the film.

Pianist Sergio Tiempo © Teatro Mayor Julio Mario Santo Domingo
Pianist Sergio Tiempo
© Teatro Mayor Julio Mario Santo Domingo

Colombia’s choral ensembles are clearly going through a great spell. The Coro Filarmónico Juvenil, the Opera Choir of Colombia and the Santa Cecilia Choral Society delivered one of the most emotive interpretations of the night. In Beethoven's Choral Fantasy, the choral performance was convincing, filled with character; they reacted effectively to Dudamel’s direction. The lines, the emphases and the balance were closely coupled to the orchestral ideas. This result is not surprising. On the contrary, it’s evidence of the maturity reached by the projects leaded by the maestros Alejandro Zuleta in the Santa Cecilia Choral Society and Luis Díaz of the Opera Choir of Colombia. Evidence from this is the outstanding role of this ensembles in the recent Bogotá is Mozart festival.

We have previously heard Sergio Tiempo at the Teatro Mayor; he played with Mischa Maisky in 2013. His interpretation on Monday night in Beethoven's Choral Fantasy had important moments of beauty. His lyrical landscapes and the ethereal sections with short and transient figurations were faultless. In the initial solo he seemed doubtful and it was reflected in the sound. Likewise, the connection between the soloist’s introduction and the orchestral entrance was not so lucid. On the other hand, the six soloist, all Colombian singers, intervened with great musicality. Julieth Lozano and Sergio Monsalve had a surprising night. The color of their voices and their correct response to the orchestra’s musical approach made their interpretations something to remember. The sextet’s power was not so surprising as the musicality that they managed, maybe due to the diversity in voice styles, some with lighter voices and some with heavier ones. Orchestra, chorus, soloists, the special Tiempo moments and Dudamel’s direction built a Choral Fantasy that the public enjoyed and celebrated.

We now await what surprises Dudamel holds for us with his cycle of Beethoven’s Symphonies.