~ Posted by Tim de Lisle, February 15th 2013

Gustavo DudamelIn journalism, the great reporter Phillip Knightley likes to say, no "no" is ever final. Our latest cover is a case in point. On landing in this seat five years ago, I had a few cover targets, led by Gustavo Dudamel (right), the conductor whose concerts are so exciting that he seems to be conducting electricity.

Dudamel was in his first flush of fame and the world had woken up to the success of El Sistema, the education programme that produced him and over which he now presides. He was hot, we were new, and the answer from his New York PR was "no". We tried again and then gave up (Knightley would not have approved), until one day last September an e-mail arrived from the broadcaster Clemency Burton-Hill.

She hadn’t written for us, but her diverse CVacting, writing a novel, playing the violinincluded an internship on The Economist. She had got to know Dudamel through her work as a presenter and thought she could get access for a long-form profile of the kind we had run on Ralph Fiennes and Sergei Polunin. "I do think", she wrote, "this piece deserves the space and tone only offered by Intelligent Life." It was already becoming clear why her various careers were flourishing.

We met and I commissioned 5,000 words. Clemency followed Dudamel from Los Angeles to La Scala, speaking to him, his wife, his boss, his collaborators John Adams and Frank Gehry, and his fellow conductor Simon Rattle. The classical world, with its culture of maestros and bravos, can be hagiographic, but Gehry and Rattle sounded candid warnings about the way Dudamel conducts his career, and Clemency, while conveying his charisma, kept her balance. Her piece grew to 7,500 words. It is a better story than we would have got if he had said "yes" five years ago.

Tim de Lisle is editor of Intelligent Life

Picture Getty