Meet the film director helping Dudamel paint the story of 'The Creation' inside Disney Hall
Alberto Arvelo is used to hiring composers to set music to his films. The Venezuelan director’s most recent feature, “Libertador,” employed none other than Gustavo Dudamel — in his debut film score — for that task.
The roles were reversed, however, on Arvelo’s new assignment: setting film to Dudamel-led concerts of Joseph Haydn’s epic oratorio, “The Creation.”
“It’s exactly what should happen with a good music in film,” Arvelo said. “Good music is something that you can feel, that can create something that’s not there. Basically, if music is there, it’s because we have to add something to that moment, to provoke this combustion in some way. This is more or less the same concept, but exactly in a reverse way.”
In performances at the Walt Disney Concert Hall on Thursday through Saturday, Arvelo’s imagery will accompany Dudamel conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic, guest vocal soloists and the Los Angeles Master Chorale in Haydn’s 1797 work based on biblical texts and John Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” (A fourth matinee performance on Sunday will forgo the visuals for a purer musical experience.)
The filmmaker began working on the project a year ago, seeking ways of painting the story of creation — from chaos to water to the stars — in abstract, emotional strokes.
“Gustavo, from the beginning, told me that he wanted something very contemporary, from today,” Arvelo said.
For his part, Dudamel will conduct a faithful interpretation of the piece, with Haydn’s prescribed number of musicians.
“It’s very simple, the text,” Dudamel said. “It’s the creation of Earth, it’s the creation of many things. But with the music of Haydn ... the first part, the chaos, is [like] a piece from the 21st century. You feel that it’s not Haydn. He’s so ahead of his time.”
Arvelo’s moving pictures are — in his words — “a beautiful, crazy cocktail” of photographs, aerial drone footage from Joshua Tree and Yosemite, animation and textures of actual oil paintings and canvases. Using computers, he mapped the whole interior of Disney Hall in order to project — with four projectors on four surfaces around the room — onto designated parts of the hall.
In one sequence, a waterfall cascades around and behind the hall’s famous organ “fries,” bouncing and splashing off the rear seats.
When he learned that architect Frank Gehry described his hall as the inside of a ship, Arvelo seized on the idea of taking the audience on a voyage through creation.
“We felt from the beginning that the biggest risk in this project is to be obvious,” he said, “to show the audience what the audience is expecting, in some way. We have to take the audience to a different place — then beauty appears.”
Arvelo, 49, and Dudamel, 35, refer to each other as brothers — and while they aren’t biologically related, they’re both from Venezuela, and both played in the country’s El Sistema music program. Their mothers share the name Solange.
Arvelo’s grandfather was the respected Venezuelan poet Alberto Arvelo Torrealba. Arvelo grew up in the mountainous state of Mérida and learned to play the cello before becoming a filmmaker. He met Dudamel while making his 2006 documentary on El Sistema, “To Play or to Fight.”
Last year Arvelo created visual accompaniment for a Dudamel-led performance of Mendelssohn’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Hollywood Bowl. Before that he directed two operas — “Don Giovanni” and “Cantata Criolla” (with a text by his grandfather) — with Dudamel conducting.
“I know Beto deeply as a human being,” Dudamel said. “He’s coming from this very artistic family, and all of this combination makes Beto a very sensitive person. I think Beto is a very poetic person, and I love that from him. That is why we connect, because I’m very poetic too. I’m a little bit crazy, fire, sometimes wild. But having [someone like] Beto next to me, you learn how to balance these things ... how you can combine the arts and the feelings to be a better human being.”
Arvelo, who lives near Dudamel in L.A. and in Venezuela, credited a shared sense of humor for their chemistry — but also pointed to a commonality between film directors and conductors.
“I remember having this conversation with Claudio Abbado, the great Italian conductor,” Arvelo said. “He told me, ‘I understand why you guys are friends, because the same happened to me with [Andrei] Tarkovsky,’ the great Russian filmmaker. They drove from southern Italy to north Italy, just for the pleasure of talking and traveling, and drinking wine and sharing life.”
He cited another director, Ingrid Bergman, who characterized music and film as “sister arts.”
“They’re both made of time,” Arvelo said. “And you don’t need an intellectual process to understand music or a good film. It’s there, it’s just a feeling, it’s an emotion that you get. So that is, in some way, what we have been trying to create here.”
Where: Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday (no video on Sunday)
Information: (323) 850-2000, www.laphil.com