Culture Zohn: Dudamel does New York--a special report

You know when the line is WILD AND WOOLY and WRAPS AROUND THE WHOLE LOBBY that something is very different at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center. The buzz was insane...people queuing up behind velvet stanchions-- but not nearly as docile as at the post office--waiting to pick up their tickets at will call.

Kind of like a rock concert.

Even the press desk, normally an oasis of calm was understaffed by a lone young man besieged by irate professionals.

What gives?

It's the fourth and final concert of a four night stand of Gustavo Dudamel in his debut conducting the New York Philharmonic.

The NY Times had devoted unprecedented front page arts coverage to his dynamic style; four photographs capturing the rocking and rolling of his dramatic sweep. They had also told of some skepticism by the notorious dour-faced musicians.

Well, guess what? None of that was on evidence last night. Though not nearly as relaxed as their counterparts in LA with this kind of celebrity, they gave over to the sold out house and energy that was zinging through the hall. Patrons who had come to see the enormously accomplished and rarely glimpsed Gil Shaham, the US born, Israeli-reared violinist all of a sudden got that there was a whole other thing going on-and were swept away by the sheer force of this 26 year old dynamo as he danced his way through a Dvorak violin concerto, Chavez and then the percussive, heavy, Prokofiev Symphony 5. (Someone next to me said, "he likes the fives" referring also to the Mahler symphony he had played in Los Angeles just recently.)

The normally jaded, demanding New Yorkers were riveted by his energy, his power, his youth, but most of all his inclusiveness. They were all commenting that they hadn't EVER seen a concert with such starriness. The hug fest that is now the trademark of a Dudamel ovation captures the essence of his collaborative nature, weaned on so many years with his own beloved Simon Bolivar orchestra.

Most of the people seated near me, longtime NY Phil subscribers had not been to Disney Hall in LA. I think that will change. They were so curious about Dudamel, Los Angeles, what was going on there.

Every once in a while a performer comes along who is, to use a phrase of our mostly art-phobic president, a uniter not a divider. Gustavo Dudamel is one of those. He trails good will, a smiling face and the ability to pull the best from an orchestra.

Now for a short while, he won't be in the US as his tour takes him overseas. (And I worry a little about Hugo Chavez wanting to nationalize him too just to keep him home.)

But the next time you hear he's coming anywhere near you, even if you've been staying away from classical music, take a chance on Gustavo.