When Gustavo Dudamel played violin and Itzhak Perlman conducted in a reverse duet for the ages

21 August 2023, 16:34

Acclaimed violinist Itzhak Perlman, and legendary conductor Gustavo Dudamel swapped their instrument and baton in rare rehearsal insight
Acclaimed violinist Itzhak Perlman, and legendary conductor Gustavo Dudamel swapped their instrument and baton in rare rehearsal insight. Picture: Getty images

By Sophia Alexandra Hall

What happens when one of the world’s great violinists and a beloved conductor swap places?

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Gustavo Dudamel is best known for commanding some of the world’s greatest orchestras as one of history’s most decorated conductors.

The maestro is perhaps best known for being the music director of the LA Philharmonic. He has held the role since 2009, but will be stepping down in 2026 to take over the New York Philharmonic.

During his tenure so far at the LA Phil, Dudamel has received multiple Grammy Awards, was given his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and performed with some of the best living musicians across the classical music spectrum and beyond.

One of these musicians is Itzhak Perlman, a virtuoso who many have deemed to be one of the greatest violinists who ever lived. Perlman joined Dudamel and the LA Phil to perform Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in 2018, but during a rehearsal ahead of the concert, the two great musicians decided to swap roles.

In footage captured by the orchestra’s social team, Dudamel takes the string instrument to perform an excerpt of the iconic violin concerto while Perlman conducts and shouts an encouraging ‘Bravo’. Watch the sweet reverse duet below.

Read more: This Sesame Street sketch with violinist Itzhak Perlman teaches us everything about being human

Itzhak Perlman turns the tables on Gustavo Dudamel

The maestro becomes the soloist! Itzhak Perlman turns the tables on Gustavo Dudamel and leads him and the LA Phil through Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto at today’s practice. You can see them in their usual roles tonight #atthebowl hollywoodbowl.com/dudamel

Posted by LA Phil on Tuesday, August 21, 2018

While Dudamel is best known for his conducting, the maestro has been playing the violin much longer than he’s been holding a baton.

As a child, Dudamel learned how to play the string instrument thanks to the El Sistema programme in Venezuela. At just eight years old Dudamel began learning the violin, but it only took him a few months to be invited into the back of the second violin section to play for a major city-wide concert.

According to an interview with Time Magazine in 2022, Dudamel told his El Sistema violin teacher when invited to join the orchestra that he felt “painfully out of depth” and only knew how to play about three notes. But his teacher told him to just enjoy the experience and live in the moment.

And so the young Venezuelan musician took this advice and played with the ensemble, despite not feeling good enough to partake, in a concert featuring 600 musicians.

Dudamel told Time that at the moment he played his first note on the violin with the rest of the orchestra, “this feeling went across my body and my ears. This physical dimension of the soul of the space!

“The music transformed me and, I’m sure, half the students there. We were all transformed that day.”

Read more: Gustavo Dudamel leaves Paris Opera four years early in shock resignation

Berliner Luft (2017) - Gustavo Dudamel (on violin) & Berliner Philharmoniker - Waldbühne, Berlin

While Dudamel is busy being an internationally renowned conductor today, you will occasionally still see the maestro pick up his childhood string instrument of choice.

In one notable performance with the Berlin Philharmonic in 2017, the maestro picked up the violin to join in with a rendition of Berliner Luft (The Air in Berlin), an unofficial anthem of the German capital written by composer Paul Lincke.

The work today is often heard as an encore for the Berlin Philharmonic and other conductors such as Sir Simon Rattle sometimes also join in the performance. Watch his starring role on the bass drum below.

Lincke: Berliner Luft / Berliner Philharmoniker (with Simon Rattle at the bass drum)