Peter Bart: Gustavo Dudamel’s Defection Indicative Of A Reignited East Coast-West Coast Rivalry


The classic New York vs. Los Angeles tension is playing out on several fronts at the moment, much to the discomfort of those of us who align with both sides.

The defection of Gustavo Dudamel from L.A. to conduct the New York Philharmonic reflects more than a switch in energy and show business muscle; the Venezuela-born conductor, many feel, also embodies inclusion at an inspirational level.

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But then we have the NBA: The decision this week of New York’s two biggest basketball stars, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, to dump New York and Brooklyn to head West (to Dallas and Phoenix) not only shifted the balance of power in the league, but exposed decades-old fissures between the coasts as Brooklyn turned down offers from Los Angeles’ two teams, the Clippers and the Lakers.

All of this is, of course, reminiscent of the the West Coast-East Coast hip-hop rivalry of the 1990s.

Hollywood’s decision-making pyramid also felt a westward jolt with David Zaslav’s resettlement to Beverly Hills and Burbank. Both socially and corporately, Zaslav was a major show business presence in Gotham.

And Manhattan didn’t even get much snow this winter.

David Geffen, who turns 80 next week, and his friend Barry Diller, 81, also epitomize L.A. characters who have re-invented themselves as New Yorkers.

Born in Beverly Hills, Diller has become a major contributor to Manhattan’s resurgence, creating the High Line that re-energized the West Side, and Little Island, a floating cultural mecca. In interviews he enjoys proclaiming that the Oscar is an “antique” and telling PBS that serious filmmaking is over in Hollywood.

Geffen, while maintaining semi-invisibility socially, has brilliantly leveraged his contributions to maximize the ubiquity of the Geffen name. Dudamel will, of course, conduct the New York Philharmonic at Geffen Hall. And the Geffen name is widely immortalized across Columbia University and at UCLA.

Before re-invention, Geffen was born in Borough Park, NY, and enjoyed producing movies like Beetlejuice and fostering music stars. Diller was a founding partner of DreamWorks and CEO at Fox.

The defection of Dudamel has had a serious emotional impact in L.A. Mark Swed, the music critic of the Los Angeles Times, wrote that “we in L.A. were convinced that our city’s advantages greatly outweighed what the Big Apple had to offer. We were wrong.”

In New York, he believes that “audiences at the Philharmonic will grow as Dudamel changes the mood of the hall and the range of music.”

As the New York Times observed, “Dudamel in L.A. was not a snob. He was happy to appear with pop stars on stage at the Hollywood Bowl as well as conducting the works of Prokofiev.”

Signed in L.A. 13 years ago, Dudamel won wide praise for initiating a youth orchestra and training thousands of aspiring musicians. Composer John Adams stated, “It will be hard for L.A. to replace him. He transformed the community by bringing focus on Latin American culture.”

“He’s mesmerizing and had a true cultural impact on this town,” said former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Coming to L.A. at 26, Dudamel won the nickname “the Dude” for his charismatic charm.

West Coast sports fans are hopeful that the well-traveled stars, Durant and Irving, will at least match the Dudamel energy. After all, they point out, LeBron doesn’t seem to be moving anywhere; he just became the NBA’s all-time scoring leader.

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