At the age of only three, Gustavo Dudamel’s love of music is already all-consuming. His grandmother Engracia Vasquez de Dudamel tries to steer him in a different direction, en-rolling him in swimming and karate courses. Not a chance: he wants to become a musician like his father, at all costs. But his arms aren’t long enough yet to play his father’s instrument, the trombone. So at the tender age of four, he finds himself in the state-run El Sistema youth orchestra with a violin (also far too large) in his hands, and by the age of ten is already reading musical scores as if they were books. He is just twelve when the conductor does not show up at a rehearsal due to illness. Without further ado, Gustavo steps onto the vacant podium, picks up the baton and gets down to business. His friends and colleagues laugh at first, but then fall silent after barely five minutes of focused work. There are now no doubts whatsoever about the boy’s future career. Just five months later he is an assistant conductor, and the following year he already has his own chamber orchestra. Since the age of eighteen he has presided over “his” Orquesta Sinfónica de la Juventud Venezolana Simón Bolívar.
Born in 1981 in Barquisimeto, Venezuela’s fourth-largest city that is known as the country’s musical capital. His mother is a voice teacher, his father a salsa trombonist.
Enrolls in “El Sistema” at the age of four, at eighteen his teacher José Antonio Abreu, the founder of El Sistema, names him principal conductor of the Simón Bolívar Orchestra.
2003 Simon Rattle’s assistant in Berlin and Salzburg.
Some of his major awards: 2004 First Prize at the Gustav Mahler Conducting Competition in Bamberg, 2011 Gramophone Artist of the Year, 2013 Musical America’s Musician of the Year.
2006 debut at Milan’s La Scala, 2007 at Carnegie Hall.
2007–2012 Principal Conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, starting 2009 also of the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra, his contract was recently extended until 2021/22. He also continues to preside over the Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar.
2017 conducts the New Year’s Concert of the Vienna Philharmonic, the youngest ever to do so at thirty-five. When this is brought up, he retorts that he is not really that young, pointing to his first gray hairs.
Dudamel’s discography from 2006–2017 encompasses more than 30 CDs, the most-often-represented composer is Gustav Mahler.
Did you know?
During Gustavo Dudamel’s childhood, the family of seven lives together in a space of 50 square meters; Gustavo’s hammock hangs over his grandparents’ bed.
Dudamel always reads many different kinds of books simultaneously, skipping from one to the other after a few pages. He is unable to concentrate on one at a time.
When he becomes principal conductor in Los Angeles at the age of twenty-seven, the U.S. media dubs him “the Obama of music.”
2012 makes a guest appearance on Sesame Street, where he conducts a choir of penguins singing Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.
Dudamel has been married to Spanish actress María Valverde since 2017. He has a son, Martín, from his first marriage to Venezuelan ballet dancer and journalist Eloísa Maturén.
He is often reproached for not taking a stand on the difficult state of affairs in his home country, and is viewed as a “favorite of the president.” In 2017 he makes his first critical remarks, after which the Venezuelan government cancels a tour with the youth orchestra.