John Williams calls Dudamel a genius

John Williams calls Dudamel a genius


norman lebrecht

January 23, 2019

Composer John Williams, actor-directors Helen Hunt and Christoph Waltz and rock star Chris Martin were there to see Gustavo honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Williams, in a friendly oration, called him inexplicable, a genius and a wizard.




  • Paul Richardson says:

    I’m nauseous. How hair and over the top theatrics became equated with genius…

    • Bruce says:

      It’s nothing new. I remember reading Goethe’s memoir (or trying to) where he said that when he was a young man, he and his friends became so fond of the idea of “genius” that they imagined they saw it everywhere. If someone was sufficiently eccentric or flamboyant to attract attention, he was a “genius.”

      Not much has changed over the last 250 years, apparently.

    • M2N2K says:

      Not a “genius” certainly, but he has been considerably better than just “hair and over the top theatrics” for about a full decade now.

  • Maduro is missing says:

    Where’s Maduro?

    • Anon says:

      Gustavo is trying to rebrand himself as a resistance hero, so he doesn’t invite the boss when he’s in the US.

  • The View from America says:

    How lovely.

  • Caravaggio says:

    Give me a freaking break. If this dude is genius then we have reached the nadir in judgement. Apparently Mr. Williams missed hearing the recent Met Otellos. Prosaic does not even begin to describe it.

  • Tamino says:

    woman speaking in the beginning: “one of the few classical musicians, to reach true mainstream audiences.”

    My head is still spinning from trying to get into the thought process of someone, who comes up with saying something like that.

    • Brian says:

      She’s right. Only Yo-Yo Ma and maybe Renee Fleming have a similar imprint on the broader public at the moment. Reading the comments here, thought, you’d think mass popularity was the greatest sin a classical musician could commit.

      • Tamino says:

        Brian, what does ‘mainstream audience’ mean in the context of art?
        And what is a ‘TRUE mainstream audience’?

        • Harrumph says:

          It’s something like a true Scotsman, only it’s an audience.

        • Sue Sonata Form says:

          It means that the game has changed. You now have a bigger working class than middle in the USA (do lots more reading!) and this is but one small consequence. Stay tuned when many millions MORE unskilled people arrive on your southern border and robots start replacing huge numbers of unskilled jobs. And driverless cars.

          • Caravaggio says:

            SSF, LOL. But you just wait until the tax-avoiding oligarch class finishes raping the country. Oh wait, they have practically done it.

          • Harrumph says:

            Run along Susie, you should be practicing yours scales, there’s a good lass.

        • M2N2K says:

          You may call it “general public” if you prefer.

      • Cubs Fan says:

        Not to mention John Williams himself who has done a lot to elevate orchestral music to the larger public.

    • Robert Groen says:

      Tamino, don’t worry about it.

  • Ben says:

    Will the Dude be on fire like AN …. ???

  • Deborath says:

    The age of decadence. No doubt.

  • boringfileclerk says:

    Wearing trainers with suits? Hardly genius.

    • Ms.Melody says:

      Geniuses are not generally known for their sartorial elegance, just the opposite.
      Genius for Dudamel is a bit over the top, just as it is for the 99% of conductors and musicians of past and present. He is not without talent and his conducting is better than some of the offerings out there, yes, even at the MET. As for his hair, I think it is part of his image,”It’s real and it is spectacular”

      • Harrumph says:

        “He is not without talent.” Talk about damning with faint praise. Accurate, but just barely.

      • Spenser says:

        You hit the nail on the hammer (as my wife would say), Ms. Melody.
        “He is not without talent and his conducting is better than some of the offerings out there, yes, even at the MET.”
        Couldn’t have said it better myself.
        Bottom line: he ain’t too bad. But he’s still young as conductors go (ref: Blomstedt, Haitink, Ozawa), so let’s give him some time to develop before using the G-word, shall we?

        • Novagerio says:

          Ozawa was also considered “an exotic bird” in the 70’s, although hardly a genius….
          now, given his higher age, he’s already considered one of the old Statesmen of the Podium (Like Mehta, another then “exotic bird”)…

          This topic reminds me of what an old coach from Munich once said about those mediatic geniuses; “We have a word for that here in Munich: Ein Paradisvogel!”…

          • Harrumph says:

            This is all so silly. No CONDUCTOR is a “genius”. The baton produces no sound (and if it did, many an emperor would be reveal’d in his altogether). Let’s reserve the word for creators. Y’know, Bach, Goethe, Leonardo, Tesla, et al. Enough lionizing of these big-haired stick-twirlers. Perhaps a few have had some talent, but almost none of them rise above the parasitic. Enough with the “genius” nonsense.

    • Robert Groen says:

      Just the kind of remark you’d expect from a boring file clerk….

  • Michael says:

    Hats off, gentlemen: a genius.

    Hats back on, gentlemen: an idiot.

    P.D.Q. Bach

    • michael hurshell says:

      While I like the quote, let me point out that it was not said by PDQ, but rather, was a remark Schumann supposedly made about him.

  • RW2013 says:

    Freeeeeeemdschäääääämen merkin-style

  • The View from America says:

    We can add one more adjective to John Williams’ description of GD: “gold-digger”.

    They’re his initials, after all.

  • Dennis says:

    If Dudamel’s a “genius”, then John Williams must be the greatest composer of all time.

    Writing in the 1930s, Robert Musil already saw cultural portents in this indiscriminate bestowing of “genius” on everything from boxers to racehorses in “The Man Without Qualities”:

    “And one day Ulrich stopped wanting to be promising. The time had come when people were starting to speak of genius on the soccer field or in the boxing ring, although there would still be at most only one genius of a half back or great tennis-court tactician for every ten or so explorers, tenors, or writers of genius who cropped up in the papers. The new spirit was not yet quite sure of itself. But just then Ulrich suddenly read somewhere, like a premonitory breath of ripening summer, the expression “the racehorse of genius.” It stood in the report of a sensational racing success, and the author was probably not aware of the full magnitude of the inspiration his pen owed to the communal spirit.”

  • Tamino says:

    Conductors are performers and as such rarely truly genius. Genius is something usually reserved for original creators like composers.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    With many millions more Latin Americans arriving in the USA you can expect more of this, not less. The American middle class has been hollowed out over the last 10-15 years and people writing here wonder why cultural standards are declining. Yep, it’s rocket science!!

    I like “The Dude”; he’s a refreshing young face on the serious music scene and people like him are going to be needed to educate the burgeoning working classes.

    • barry guerrero says:

      If I’m understanding your two contradictory paragraphs correctly, I think you’re looking at it bass-ackwards. Talent is not exclusive to those with European lineage. The future of classical music – which is already here – is very much in Asia and South America.

  • Robert Groen says:

    I admire Dudamel for putting Venezuela on the map as a country building a classical music tradition and his own conductoring career seems to be up and running. Well done! But let’s not apply the label ‘genius’ too easily.

  • Larry says:

    I wish I could understand all of the hatred expressed here. If you don’t care for Dudamel’s performances, so be it. But this event was for a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It’s not the Nobel Prize, not the Pulitzer Prize, not the Congressional Medal of Honor or Purple Heart. It’s a star in the sidewalk, for G-d’s sake, ie., a fun, light-hearted, campy, silly event, which goes back decades in Tinseltown. (If he’s REALLY lucky, he’ll get to leave his hand prints in some wet cement!) Let’s all just lighten up a bit, shall we? The truth is that it is rare to see classical artists acknowledged in the mainstream media in America at all these days. If it takes a star in the sidewalk to accomplish this, then I say “right on!”

    I shall now pour myself a stiff drink and listen to some Kostelanetz records.

  • Rob says:

    There are orchestral musicians that made great conductors…. Haitink and there are those who think they are great.

  • MacroV says:

    I love the knee-jerk condemnation anytime there’s a story about Dudamel. I admit I’m still a bit agnostic about him, but consider:

    – He leads what many now consider, if not necessarily the best, arguably the most creative, innovative, and relevant orchestra in the United States. Much of that is the legacy of Deborah Borda, and Esa-Pekka Salonen (and probably Ernest Fleischmann), but he took it and has put his own stamp on it.

    – He’s probably doing more than any major conductor in terms of engaging young people in music through YOLA.

    – Major orchestras whose players have a say in who gets engaged – e.g. Berlin and Vienna – regularly engage him. Clearly they hold him in high regard. Many others surely would if his schedule permitted.

    Perhaps he should cut his hair; that might silence a couple critics. And of course his other problems are 1) that he’s not 30 years older, and 2) he’s not Carlos Kleiber, the only conductor on SD who seems to be without detractors.

    • Bill says:

      I’ve also entertained that same line of argument about WP and BP players seemingly happily engaging the Dude. One part of me wonders if perhaps they are sufficiently mercenary that they are willing to do it to sell tickets, but I doubt they really need such help (and I’m not sure their regular audiences are easily fooled, either). The sticking point with the argument for me is that I would (for consistency’s sake) have to accept that Eschenbach might be a fine conductor as well, as they also hire him…

      • MacroV says:

        Berlin hasn’t hired Eschenbach in years, not since the Digital Concert Hall started in 2009, anyway. You can breathe a little easier.

        • Bill says:

          Well, he still gets gigs with the WP, and rightfully or not, I feel they show more independence, having no permanent conductor. And then there’s the infamous Karajan quip:

          “I tell the Berliners to step forward, they do it. If I tell the Viennese to step forward, they do it, but then they ask why.”

      • M2N2K says:

        If you compare the total number of concerts performed including those on tour plus the number of recordings made – during last 10 years or so – by VPO and BPO with those two conductors, you will see that Eschenbach is nowhere near Dudamel; so this test still works at least as well as any other and better than most.

    • Harrumph says:

      None of those are reasons to call him a “genius”. It’s the idiotic hyperbole that is so tiresome.

  • Jack says:

    Ah, the huffy, sniffy, outraged condescension abounds in this string Hilarious.

  • Ravi Narasimhan says:

    I’ve enjoyed many an evening with him on the podium. Far more than with his predecessor. The two 2007 evenings with the then Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra were beyond electric. I will take those memories to the pyre.

    I don’t know why he seeks this kind of publicity or the kind that came with the Super Bowl a few years ago.

  • barry guerreroq says:

    Yes, it’s time again for Dudamel bashing. Never mind that his actual conducting technique is far clearer than most folks’, or that his tempi are pretty much always right on the mark. He must be a fraud. We must be suspicious of him. Surely we’re being duped (and don’t call me Shirley).

  • Ed says:

    Ok. Dudamel and… André Rieu. Geniuses.

    • Tamino says:

      Don’t sweat too much about it.
      The American dictionary Thesaurus for ‘Genius’ names ‘it sells’ and ‘profit maker’ as synonymes.

  • Nick says:

    Obama also got a Nobel Prize!!! Who knows why? He does not know it himself!!!
    Dudamel – genius? This laughable, unless he is a genius clown. That he most certainly is. But LA deserves what they got.

  • Ian Restil says:

    Given that contemporaneous comments on genius, whether prescriptive or proscriptive, have the tendency to age very badly, we should probably refrain from hyperventilating over Mr. Williams’ remarks. Whether he or Dudamel deserve a place in the musical firmament or not, drawing the eyes of the general public skyward surely improves the chances they might fix their gaze upon those bright stars we all agree do belong there.