The new documentary "¡Viva Maestro!" (opening May 13 at Digital Gym Cinema) serves up a portrait of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s dynamic music and artistic director Gustavo Dudamel.
Dudamel is a rock star in the classical music world. The Venezuelan conductor has focused much of his energy on working with youth orchestras and symphonies. As the documentary shows, he is adored by young fans who squeal with delight at his arrival and hound him for autographs. As you get to know him in this film, you quickly understand why he elicits such an avid following.
Filmmaker Ted Braun looks back to 2017 when political unrest in Venezuela impacted Dudamel’s world and led to the government canceling his international tours. At one point Braun captured a contemplative Dudamel, who had always tried to avoid politics.
"It’s a complex time," Dudamel said in an interview in the film from 2017. "Politically, socially, we have a moment of intolerance and we believe music has power to unite people."
The film highlights Dudamel’s passion for music and its power to transform. It is an inspiring and insightful look at what music means to Dudamel and how he tries to convey that to both an audience and his musicians. The way the charismatic Dudamel talks about conducting and bringing every note to life is riveting and will give even the most unmusical of viewers a new appreciation for how to listen to and maybe more importantly feel the music.
I enjoy music but have no understanding of what makes good music or what a conductor does. Dudamel refrains from using technical terms to explain what he does and what he is trying to achieve and instead addresses how the music should make you feel and what a musician needs to do to achieve that. He tells musicians to "take risks" and use "the whole bow" to their instruments to create the feeling of antagonism between the warring families of the Montagues and Capulets in "Romeo and Juliette."
There were moments when I got chills listening to his descriptions followed by the music.
At another point in the film, he demonstrates how he uses his arms and hands while conducting to almost pull the music out of the air. "¡Viva Maestro!" makes Dudamel’s passion for music palpable, as if you can touch every note.
"My role is to keep spreading the message that art, music and culture goes beyond entertainment," Dudamel says in the film. "It heals the community, the soul of the people."
You can experience the exuberant healing power of music through Dudamel and "¡Viva Maestro!" at Digital Gym Cinema starting Saturday. The film will start streaming later in May on Amazon and AppleTV.