Gustavo Dudamel Responds to Furor Over Venezuela Concert

Friday, February 21, 2014 - 04:00 PM

Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela at Carnegie Hall Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela at Carnegie Hall (Ramin Talaie for NPR)

The conductor Gustavo Dudamel has responded to sharp criticism that came after he conducted a high-profile concert in his native Venezuela on Feb. 12, the same day that anti-government protests in Caracas had spawned violent clashes and left three dead.

"I knew that there was to be a demonstration," Dudamel told the Los Angeles Times, "but I was rehearsing all day, and I didn't know anything about the violence."

The controversy started last week, when Dudamel, who conducts the Simón Bolivar Symphony Orchestra, was chastised by a fellow Venezuelan musician, pianist Gabriela Montero, for not speaking out against policies of the country’s president, Nicolás Maduro. In an open letter on her Facebook page, published the day after the violence in Caracas, Montero argued that Dudamel could no longer stay silent about a government that protesters accuse of oppression and blame for a variety of economic and social problems. Montero and Dudamel are said to be old friends.

Montero wants artists to speak out against what she sees as an increasingly dictatorial and dysfunctional government, instead of tacitly supporting it by playing concerts that celebrate Venezuela's national music education system, El Sistema. Dudamel has resisted such calls, saying it would not be in the apolitical spirit of El Sistema, which serves some 500,000 school children.

Initially, news reports circulated that Dudamel had been conducting the Simón Bolivar Symphony at a presidential parade in Maracay on Feb. 12 with President Maduro in attendance. Dudamel vehemently denied playing for Maduro, saying “that’s crazy.”

"Everything I do is against violence and radicalism," Dudamel said. "I don't think I'm naive when I say that I think everybody wants the best for Venezuela and we have to build together."

The conductor has forged at least some ties with Venezuelan politicians in the past. He met with Maduro last year about plans for a "Dudamel Hall" in Caracas; months earlier he performed at the funeral of Hugo Chávez.

An organization of Los Angeles-based Venezuelans held a vigil in front of Walt Disney Concert Hall before a concert Friday night by the Bolívar Orchestra. That orchestra is helpingto kick off an 11-day Tchaikovsky festival with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where Dudamel is also music director.

The situation has spawned a variety of responses. Tom Service, a classical music critic at London’s Guardian, questioned whether the conductor could truly remain neutral given his stature.

"The question for Dudamel... is where he draws the line on what he's able to tolerate from his political masters in Venezuela,” wrote Service in a Friday column. “If he's true to his essential ethos that music is independent of whatever government is in charge, he ought to feel he can speak freely and critically to power as well as effectively be a tacit observer of what's happening in his country.”

What do you think of Dudamel's actions? Of Montero's criticisms? Please leave your comments below.

Updated 2/22


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Comments [34]

Peter Feldman from New York City

Artists cannot except themselves from politics, they are human beings like others so their attitudes toward human rights can be debated. Arturo Toscanini confronted Fascism in Italy and abandoned his country. Dudamel can do the same but Dudamel is an opportunist who wants both the cake and eat it too. Many Nazi artists profiteered from their support of Hitler. If Dudamel wants to conduct in a free USA country he must side with principles of liberty and freedom rather than be silent about the crimes of the Venezuelan Government.

Mar. 25 2014 09:32 PM
Phil from Queens, NY

"Blah, blah, blah!" That is a good one. I bet the connoisseurs do not care very much for it.

Feb. 26 2014 08:09 AM

Dudamel is an intelligent artist and correct to proceed with the concert. Since 1998 Chavez had won 14 out of 15 elections but the pro-empire Venezuelan & international media still called him a dictator. Now Maduro is facing the same racist Venezuelan elite who can't win elections and have no alternative but to resort to violence. Chavez faced a coup in 2002, Maduro just last week.

It's ironic that only countries that refuse to bend down to the US/EU banking mafia slaving the working class of most of the planet are facing "protests". Ukrainians just suffered a coup of another democratically elected leader. Paul Craig Roberts, a conservative no less, explains here who's really behind these phony protestors:

Feb. 25 2014 02:23 PM
Floria from nyc

Blah, blah, blah! I'm more concerned with the music he makes than the politics he takes.

Feb. 25 2014 01:21 PM

Hi Concetta,
You're right about that. I have friends who grew up in Poland during the Communist era and they say the same thing.
I'm sure the NSA is having a wonderful time reading all our comments!

Feb. 25 2014 09:59 AM
concetta nardone from Nassau

Thanks Carol, hope you are well. I am so happy to have another kerfuffle going on. I like reading different points of view. What I do not like is that the government can read all our internet stuff. My husband grew up in fascist Italy and he still has some of the scars. He tells me to be careful what I say on the telephone and what I write in my emails. He worries about what unfettered government can do and this government is getting more and more unfettered.
Best wishes to all

Feb. 25 2014 07:32 AM
Chico from Lower East Side

Re: Mr S. Cohen;
I have no vacancy in my heart for a person who is unable, or should I say unwilling to differentiate the difference between physical abuse and verbal criticism. Here we see an example of someone occupied by uncoordinated carnivorous thoughts. "Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will..."
Need I say more?

Feb. 24 2014 06:37 PM
Steve Cohen from Brooklyn

I think Dudamel should be put in front of a Firing Squad, representing the people.

Feb. 24 2014 04:31 PM

Hi Concetta,
It seems we have another kerfuffle going! I completely agree with you, and I would also add Rumsfeld to that list of war criminals. President Obama has done no better either; what a disappointment this current administration has been - just a continuation of the Bush policies. It was President Eisenhower who predicted the danger of the military-industrial complex and we can see that he was correct.
I also agree with David's point about all the celebrities who criticized Bush but are strangely silent as Obama carries out the same policies.
One positive note - at least here in the U.S. we can criticize our government without fear that we will be locked up.

Feb. 24 2014 04:12 PM
Concetta Nardone from Nassau

We should look at our own house. Bush and Cheney, war criminals. How many innocents killed because of their saber rattling. Drones, etc. Invading countries that were no danger to us just to make some bucks for the military industrial complex. Obama with his drones, warrantless searches and seizures, the militarization of our police in direct violation of the Posse Commitatus Act, etc. etc. Even the books we read are checked out. Libraries forced to hand over their records, etc.etc.etc.

Feb. 24 2014 07:22 AM
Minnie from Sacramento

Hitler took on for himself very similar musical movement which started in Germany in the early 20s, which he later called, Hitlerjugend. It is similar to "el Sistema" in Venezuela, because it is controlled by the régime, and it must play when the régime orders it to play. Venezuela's favorite TV station RCTV ended its final day of broadcasting with a rendition of the national anthem performed by network employees and on-air talent, followed by a shot of a pro-RCTV protest. The screen then faded to black. A few seconds later, a series of TVes idents appeared on Channel 2. At 12:20 a.m. AST (0420 UTC) on May 28, 2007, TVes began its programming with playing of the national anthem, performed by a large choir clad in Venezuelan colors and full sized orchestra led by the famous young Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel. After some network promos, TVes switched to an auditorium, where station president Lil Rodríguez gave a speech to a crowd of Chávez supporters. When Chávez died, Dudamel rushed to Venezuela to conduct his funeral. And the, of course, there is the incident on February 12 where students were being killed by the National Guard and Dudamel played for the dictator.

Why is it that many criticize people who followed Hitler fail to see the similarity here? It certainly boggles my mind.

Feb. 23 2014 11:32 PM
James Owens from Williamstown

To Martín from Caracas, what do you think Rjewski thinks of the current situation? How do you distinguish the Venezuelan opposition from those opposed to Allende in 1973? Should the rich govern the poor?

Feb. 23 2014 10:01 PM
Martín Rodríguez from caracas

Dudamel is a shame. This is not the first time he has acted a courtier to Chavismo, an elected goverment that has intentionally evolved into a military dictatorship in Venezuela, his country of birth. He can not ignore the suffering of his fellow countrymen at this perilous moment for democracy in our country. Art is freedom or is not Art.

Feb. 23 2014 08:17 PM
James Owens from Williamstown

Dudamel is doing the right thing and being political. I am disappointed at the one sidedness of the arguments raised here. The discussion shows an almost utter inability to critically examine the Venezuela situation and is surely reflects Western media orthodoxy in condemnation of self determination in Latin America. The US media applauded generations of US supported aristocratic dictators and death squads -- including the Obama coup in Honduras that made the country one of the most dangerous for journalists in the world. The Venezuelan opposition leader in question participated in a coup in 2001 that briefly ousted Chavez and inflicted violence against democratically elected leaders. The current opposition lost elections and now attempt -- again -- to remove the government through other means. The opposition has also committed violence that would not be tolerated in the US (or Britain) but somehow many people here seem to think that the overthrow of democratically elected leaders by a US supported aristocratic clique is the true mark of democracy.
I know some may not be interested in hearing information that challenges their already determined positions -- but if you care about critically thinking about the situation you might check this out:

Feb. 23 2014 07:29 PM
Dorothy T. Katzenstein from LEONIA, NEW JERSEY


Feb. 23 2014 06:14 PM

Dudamel has a vexing choice. His international stardom and the acclaim for Simon Bolivar Orchestra stems from the Venezuelan political leaders' past institutional support of the national youth music program. Yet the same leaders ruined the country and oppressed its citizens. Which is worth more in Dudamel's mind - standing up for human rights for his fellow Venezuelans and risking the continued fortunes of the program - or "cooperating" with a corrupt and oppressive leadership in trying to preserve his musical goals? It really reduces to either-or. Moral principle or compromise for the sake of lesser ends. Despite Dudamel's claim, El Sistema and Venezuelan politics are inseperable. There is no in-between.

Feb. 23 2014 03:59 PM

Helmut Zitzwitz: Excellent point. I'll go one step further: Wagner didn't care for Jews. I'm Jewish. Should I not enjoy Wagner's music? Barenboim and Levine conduct his music. One can separate the person from his creation.

If, hypothetically, a Nazi scientist had discovered a cure for some disease, would Jews now afflicted with the disease not take the cure because of who discovered it?

Feb. 23 2014 12:59 PM
Helmut Zitzwitz

The love of music will, and should, always trump over political ideology.
Just think what the alternative would be.
Burn all the Beethoven manuscripts because he was disappointed that Napoleon crowned himself?
Art should always be honored for arts sake.
Hitler admired Wagner’s music, should we therefore burn all of Wagner’s music?
So many of these comments remind me of the quote by Thomas Edison, slightly paraphrased: "It is easy to criticize, and most fools do."

Feb. 23 2014 08:02 AM
Manny Nadelman from Teaneck, NJ

This seems like a re-enactment of the saga of Wilhelm Furtwangler. As may be recalled, Furtwangler chose to remain in Nazi Germany though he was not himself a Nazi. He responded to criticism of his actions by proclaiming that art should be separate from politics. Though he reached out to Jewish musicians persecuted by the Nazis, by continuing to conduct in Germany, he enhanced the credibility of the Nazi regime as the legitimate custodians of Germany's great cultural heritage and their claim on the loyalty of the German people.

Feb. 22 2014 11:48 PM
Joanna Vegas from Caracas, Venezuela

This statements are simply false. He gave a concert to the so called "president" of Venezuela who is massacring Venezuelans that are against his totalitarian goverment two days later of the alleged February 12. When he conducted this second concert there were more dead students attacked by goverment paramilitary forces so he knew what was going on.

Feb. 22 2014 08:45 PM


Feb. 22 2014 08:01 PM
Roberto Puente from Caracas

Feb. 22 2014 07:31 PM
Alan Lemond from Panama, Panama

Dudamel is not apolitical as somebody has tried to state. This article should show his hugs and chumminess with the homicidal Maduro regime. Dudamel is like many dogs that dance for the money.

Feb. 22 2014 06:39 PM
Hector Fuenmayor from Venezuela

Demacracy has collapsed in Venezuela. The economy to support it is just about to be finished, and while the future middle class (so far this social segment largely) is being assasinated in the streets during pacific protests against the operators of destruction, high art overlooks the drama, basically to avoid financial support suspension. Were this to hapen in your countryes...

Feb. 22 2014 06:22 PM

Before one condemns artists in other countries for not speaking out against their government's atrocious policies, one should condemn artists in this country for not speaking out against their government's atrocious policies.

Obama's Drone War on innocent civilians in Asia

"The Bureau of Investigative Journalism in Britain has estimated that, in the first three years after President Obama took office, between 282 and 535 civilians were credibly reported killed by drone strikes — including more than 60 children."

"We’re looking right now at a reality that President Obama has essentially extended the very [drone war] policies that many of his supporters once opposed under President Bush," says Scahill."

Obama to boost US military in Iraq

Feb. 22 2014 05:50 PM

How about all of the left-wing celebrities in THIS country that were anti-War when Bush was doing the murdering/drone bombing of innocent people in Asia, but are now deafeningly silent when a Democrat President is doing it?

Feb. 22 2014 05:44 PM
Sherman L. Greene from Upper West Side

The comments below that Dudamel should be left alone to make his own decision miss the point. The criticism of him is that, by keeping silent & continuing to play concerts representing the government, he has already made his decision -- to side with the regime. As for being left alone, that's impossible. He's a high-profile public figure. He can decide as he wishes, but he will inevitably have to face the consequences.

Feb. 22 2014 04:59 PM
Oliviero Gutierrez

It seems he did make his choice, which he is fully entitled to, of course. But as a public person and a person dependent on public and a person that wants to serve as an example for young musicians, he has to bear the consequences. He clearly sides with the dictatorial regime, he just knows it would be bad for business to admit it openly. Now, after the cultural elites, that always tend to be quite confused about how far left is it good to lean, invested a lot of faith and $$$ in him, they have to side with him as well. Quite shameful.

Yes, 500 000 (?) children in El Sistema. And millions of children in Soviet endeavours of similar kind. And thousands of amazing athletes from Eastern Germany. And the million men marches on May 1st. Still not familiar?

Feb. 22 2014 03:23 PM
David Montague from Mexico

It's Dudamel's call. He can be as active politically (or as silent) as he thinks best. If you're not from Venezuela, you don't understand.
I'm just glad to welcome him here!

Feb. 22 2014 02:21 PM
RALPH PISCITELLI from palm coast

Dudamel has an obligation to speak out against a government that has become dictatorial and is being challenged by the people. He should take a look at the historic repudiation of Mussolini by his fellow conductor, Arturo Toscanini who left Italy in protest against Il Duce and did not return until World War II ended.

Feb. 22 2014 01:05 PM
Noreen Connell from New York City

The situation in Venezuela is very complex. Unfortunately, media coverage has been very one-sided. I respect conductor Dudamel's resistance to being pulled into this political conflict.

Feb. 22 2014 11:42 AM
Luis Ventura from ESA

I think Dudamel is doing the right decision in being outside the political situation. Mr. Service (nobody knows if he is a political or music critic) already states a political etiquette for Dudamel, making his comment offensive, and perhaps just trying to damage the artist image. Gustavo is a musician, no a politic activist.

Feb. 22 2014 11:35 AM
Lewis Archer from Teaneck, NJ, USA

Only Dudamel, and any artist, can decide this for him/serself. Others should respect that.

Feb. 22 2014 07:32 AM
AF from Nassau County, Long Island

I think that Dudamel should be allowed the choice of remaining apolitical and that his critics should leave him alone.

Feb. 22 2014 03:42 AM

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