Album Title: Fiesta
Performers: Dudamel / Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela
Label and #: Deutsche Grammophon DGG 477 7457
Running time: 75'59"
January 2008 live from Caracas

In 2004, 23-year old Gustavo Dudamel won the inaugural Gustav Mahler Conducting Competition held in Bamberg, Germany. Dudamel is from Venezuela where his Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra is fast gaining international recognition not only for the sound they make in concert halls around the world but also for the endless possibilities they have inspired in youths of their age. After winning the coveted German Echo Award for The Best New Artist of the Year 2007, Dudamel didn't go on to win the Gramophone Artist of the Year 2008. That honor went to American violinist Hilary Hahn. But Dudamel is undeniably the hottest and youngest conductor today and this year, he's scheduled to succeed Salonen as musical director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

I haven't had the chance yet to listen to Dudamel's Beethoven 5 & 7 and Mahler 5 (conducting the SBYOV) but this Latin Music album is no lesser proof of his musical gifts. As he put it, the distance between the great masterpieces and Venezuelan music is only as big as one dance step, noting the dance movements common in classical symphonies. Mind you, this youth orchestra is no school dance band but a 100-strong world-class ensemble. When they play their music, it's not just orchestral potpourri that pleases the senses. They rock your soul. And because the selected works on this album are of such symphonic scale and complexity, this orchestra's well-appointed discipline and skillful coordination translate seamlessly into dashing vitality and flying colors. An orchestra is like any solo instrument: one needs to learn the discipline before one can break free.

Here are two popular works, Sensemayá by Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas (1899-1940) and the Four Dances from Estancia by Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983), which I happen to have collected a long time ago in a remarkable recording under Michael Tilson Thomas [Argo 436 737-2]. MTT's Sensemayá is executed with precision and charged with excitement but Dudamel stimulates with flexibility and unrestrained pulse. As for Estancia, the Argentinian version of Rodeo with a romantic heart, I find Dudamel's rustic tone painting to have a more delicate layering and his musical canvas to be more expansive.

Mexican composer Arturo Márquez's (b. 1950) Danzón No. 2 is a pleasant surprise by contrasting classical elegance with a Mexican Fiesta center section. The melody is so endearing that it has been dubbed the second national anthem of Mexico. One other non-Venezuelan work is the last track, Bernstein's "Mambo" from West Side Story. The heat of the concert hall rose as Dudamel kicked off the first beat. I presume this was the final encore for this live concert from Caracas. I could feel the adrenalin pumping fast through the orchestra and audience members alike for an impromptu street-dance riot Bernstein himself would have envied! Watch the SBYOV boys and girls swing and spin (literally with their instruments) in the BBC Prom (August 2007) playing two encores here, with the "Mambo" included. The mood is contagious!

I am saving the best for last, four ear-openers from Venezuelan composers. "Margaritaña" by Inocente Carreño (b. 1919) combines nostalgic romance with primitivism in the same vein as Villa-Lobos' Uirapuru. The sweeping theme at 3:00 is as memorable as are any golden oldies from Hollywood movies. "Mediolia en el Liano" (Noon on the Plain) by Antonio Estévez (1916-1988) portrays the cattle-grazing grasslands with delicate changes of impressionistic color, a revelatory moment for the young members of the orchestra. "Fuga con Pajarillo" by Aldemaro Romero (1928-2007) is based on the popular Venezuelan dance pajarillo, which is a waltz with a funny twist, heavy on the second beat to transform it into a quasi syncopated rhythm. As if to make it even more impossible to dance to, Romero contrasts the improvisational impulse of the dance with complex contrapuntal development of the melody. Bachianas Venezuelieras if you like. "Santa Cruz de Pacairigua" by Evencio Castellanos (1915-1984) is a programmatic showpiece which begins with a religious parade of the Holy Cross and ends up in festive street dancing.

Sonic quality maintains the DGG standard for live recording - no big surprise, no big let down.