They're not in competition, they swear. Much as you might want to draw elite orchestras from New York and Los Angeles into a bicoastal grudge-match story, they just won't hear of it—especially this year, when both are debuting young music directors who aim to raise the cultural profile of classical music.
Even if we grant this premise, it's certainly notable that top philharmonics on both coasts have simultaneously undertaken face-lifts. In Los Angeles, 28-year-old Venezuelan Gustavo Dudamel and his frizzed-out mane have ignited a frisson of attention, with 18,000 citizens turning out for his debut concert at the Hollywood Bowl this month. Dudamel's kineticism isn't limited to gestures, either: his interpretations of repertory warhorses—such as Mahler's First Symphony—are riotously fine. Meantime, to less manic fanfare, 42-year-old Alan Gilbert—a New York–born Japanese-American—has succeeded 79-year-old Lorin Maazel at the New York Philharmonic. Though he's a less demonstrative force on the podium relative to Dudamel, Gilbert can boast some punkier programming: by pairing Charles Ives with Beethoven, and in presenting György Ligeti's lone opera early next year, he evinces a crucial passion for contemporaneity—without which the concert hall risks withering in stature even further.
To buttress their youth movements, each orchestra has commissioned a work from a major contemporary composer to kick off the season. Dudamel premiered John Adams's City Noir (which PBS will broadcast on Oct. 21), while Gilbert has Magnus Lindberg's EXPO. Both works crackle with a fierce but accessible language that can win new audiences. These two aren't the first to have tried, but it's still been a long time since the average American knew any conductor by his first name (a guy named Lenny). Gustavo and Alan have an opportunity to rectify that problem, whether in competition or in common.