Monday, December 3, 2007

Mr. Chavez Takes Over the Music World

There has recently been a bit of a stink in the classical music world, as political reality begins to bleed over into the fantasy world in which music usually lives. Gustavo Dudamel, a young conductor who rose to international prominence after being tapped to take the helm of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2009, has recently finished a U.S. tour with his current orchestra, the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela.

That's right, Venezuela.

Dudamel and his orchestra are products of El Sistema, a program that provides music education to youth who otherwise might not receive any. Anywhere else and the program would be celebrated. Because it exists in today's Venezuela, it is suspect. And because these youth were touring the world while other Venezuelan youth were marching protest against Chavez's failed bid to extend his presidency, they were taken to task for not saying anything against Chavez's gambit.

Alex Ross hits the nail on the head of what he calls "The Venezuela Problem" when he notes that the real problem is one of history - so many other musicians took governmental support as hush money when working under totalitarian regimes throughout the 20th century that musicians today want to make sure that they are not silent again. I agree. But with this particular orchestra, we are in a sticky situation. El Sistema was founded by José Antonio Abreu in 1975, long before Chavez. The students and Dudamel in particular are not staying quiet because the program is Chavez's, they are staying quiet because they realize the program is larger than Chavez and needs to stay beyond him. And we will get beyond him, at least it looks so now with the results of the recent election. If things turn differently very soon, I suspect Dudamel will say something, but right now he is doing the right thing - turning the classical world upside down by being the best orchestra at the Proms and proving that public music education works. Just watch this to see why Dudamel is rightly being hailed as one of the next great conductors:

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