Conducting whiz kid Gustavo Dudamel, only 26, kicked off a US tour this week with an orchestra roughly half his age. They wowed the Los Angeles Times and sparked a ripple of critical excitement from San Francisco to Boston, their next stops. Why the thrill? Because art music's new looker can play the heck out of Mahler—and rouse concertgoers to leap from their seats.
Behind Dudamel's rise is El Sistema, Venezuela's acclaimed music program—which phenom Simon Rattle has named the most vital part of classical music today. Dudamel was one of its quarter-million students, and rose to conduct its elite Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela. Now pegged as the L.A. Phil's next conductor, Dudamel is making them face high expectations.