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A Student Orchestra Shouts ‘Mambo!’ and Meets Its Idol

The student musicians, dressed in jeans, T-shirts and hooded sweatshirts, were rehearsing an excerpt from “West Side Story” in a high school auditorium one recent afternoon. Then, as the trumpets blared and the timpani went wild, a voice broke out from the conductor’s podium.

“Oy yo yo yo yo yo yo,” said the superstar maestro Gustavo Dudamel, who was leading the rehearsal. “You are not dancing together.”

Dudamel, the New York Philharmonic’s next music director, paused for a moment, telling the students they needed a more precise rhythm and sound. Then he put his hands in his pockets and swaggered around the stage.

Dudamel, the next music director of the New York Philharmonic, guided the youth ensemble, telling the students they needed a more precise rhythm and sound.Credit…James Estrin/The New York Times

“This is cool, really cool music,” he said, eliciting laughter from the students. “We need something that goes with the nature of the body.”

The students, part of a 95-member youth ensemble nominated by schools and arts programs and assembled by the New York Philharmonic, were at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in Manhattan for six days last week. They were preparing for a concert on Friday with Dudamel, who has vowed to expand the Philharmonic’s presence in schools and in the community when he takes over in 2026.

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