I first met Gustavo Dudamel four years ago in Daniel Barenboim's dressing room at the Berlin State Opera. He was working as one of Barenboim's conducting apprentices, and although Gustavo was only 24, Barenboim described him as the most exciting new conducting talent he had heard in years. I soon learned that his opinion was shared by Claudio Abbado and James Levine, two of the world's other top maestros.
Soon after, I heard Gustavo conduct his first opera performance of Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore, and I quickly offered him a future engagement at the Met. Since then, his career has skyrocketed. This fall he will become the music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
With what appears to be unlimited talent and charisma, Gustavo has invigorated the sometimes staid world of classical music. His performances are ecstatic affairs, with musicians and audiences unable to resist his infectious joy. His concerts often end with his hugging each member of the orchestra.
Gustavo's musical zeal was nurtured in his native Venezuela, where he participated in the country's classical-music program for children from impoverished areas. He's using that model for a program in the U.S.
The conductor to whom Gustavo is most often compared is Leonard Bernstein, arguably history's most charismatic conductor. After a 25-year-old Bernstein made his New York Philharmonic debut in 1943, the New York Times reported, "Mr. Bernstein advanced to the podium with the unfeigned eagerness and communicative emotion of his years. He showed ... his brilliant musicianship and his capacity both to release and control the players."
When Gustavo made his own New York Philharmonic debut a year and a half ago using Bernstein's old baton the Times declared, "Once this kinetic young conductor took the Philharmonic's podium, the comparisons with Bernstein were obvious ... He delivered teeming, impassioned and supremely confident performances. Clearly, the Philharmonic players were inspired by the boundless joy and intensity of his music-making."
Peter Gelb is the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera
See why Gustavo Dudamel made the TIME 100 list
Next Jeff Kinney