As Venezuela sinks increasingly into lawlessness and violence, pianist Gabriela Montero has appealed to conductor Gustavo Dudamel to distance himself from the country’s Chavist government.
Dudamel, conductor of Venezuela’s acclaimed Simón Bolivar Symphony Orchestra and a product of its famous El Sistema youth orchestra system, has come under fire for making a high profile appearance in Caracas on 12 February, the same day that violent clashes between protesters and police in the country left three dead.
Initially, reports had circulated on social media that Dudamel had been conducting a performance in Maracay with president Nicolas Maduro in attendance. The conductor has denied that vehemently, however, pointing out that he was in the country’s capital city leading an orchestra of young musicians from his home town of Barquisimeto in celebration of El Sistema’s foundation 39 years ago.
El Sistema enjoyed strong support from former president Hugo Chavez and Dudamel played a prominent role at Chavez’s funeral last year. Nonetheless, given Venezuela’s precarious situation, with both inflation and crime rising significantly under Chavez’s successor Maduro, Montero believes that the likes of Dudamel and José Abreu, founder of El Sistema, should now be using their high-profile status to speak out against government policy.
Writing an open letter to Dudamel and Abréu on Facebook, the pianist says that ‘the time has come in which the artists with the most prominent voices can no longer quietly accept the theft and destruction of our nation by the corrupted manifestation of a political ideology, for fear of biting the hand that feeds them. Our democracy has collapsed, and with it our dignity.’
Addressing Dudamel in person, Montero says that he is ‘right to focus your unique creative energy on the beautiful flower of music and youth, and nobody can deny that you have brought joy and rejuvenation to classical music nationally and internationally. I would be the first to congratulate you for it, but you are simply wrong to ignore the toxic oasis in which that flower stands alone, and on the brink of withering and dying, subsumed as it will be by the stench that surrounds it.’
Following the criticism, Dudamel, who has both enjoyed a long friendship with Montero and shared the concert stage with her on a number of occasions, released a statement. ‘What our National Network of Youth and Children's Orchestras of Venezuela represents are the values of Peace, Love and Unity,’ it read. ‘February 12 is a special day because it was the day that a project was born that has become the emblem and flag of our country to the world. Therefore, we commemorate all youth, we commemorate the future, we commemorate brotherhood. Our music represents the universal language of peace; therefore, we lament yesterday's events. With our music, and with our instruments in hand, we declare an absolute no to violence and an resounding yes to peace.’
Jeremy Pound is currently BBC Music Magazine’s Deputy Editor, a role he has held since 2004. Before that, he was the features editor of Classic CD magazine, and has written for a colourful array of publications ranging from Music Teacher to History Revealed, Total Football and Environment Action; in 2018, he edited and co-wrote The King’s Singers: Gold 50th anniversary book.