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Editorial: Why Gustavo Dudamel changed his tune

August 23, 2017 by norman lebrecht

32 comments.


Anyone who has spent time with Gustavo Dudamel is left in no doubt that he is a true believer He believes in the power of music to relieve social injustice. He believes in the ideals of the Sistema programme from which he emerged, in the genius of its founder Jose Antonio Abreu and in the egalitarian side of Venezuela’s revolutionary leader, Hugo Chavez.

He adored Chavez and wept openly at his funeral.

Chavez, as revolutionary leaders go, was not the worst. He observed most of the trappings of democracy and held reasonably fair elections. He also maintained close relations with pariah regimes – Iran, North Korea and the like – and enjoyed baiting the USA. Only towards the end of his life did the nastier side start of Chavism to emerge as the middle-classes were terrorised by armed thugs and hounded out of the country.

Dudamel turned a blind eye to these violations and focussed on the music.

He embraced Chavez’s successor, Nicolas Maduro, a man with no regard for democracy or human rights and no concern for anything except power. Dudamel kept his silence as civilians were murdered by Maduro’s thugs and the population starved into near-submission. He lives in Los Angeles, away from the melee.

So what prompted Dudamel to switch sides? He was apparently impressed by the persistence of mass demonstrations against the regime, and outraged by the murder of a Sistema musician. He has not, in any way, broken with Venezuela and his only intervention so far has been to call for peace and dialogue.

But that, for Maduro, makes him an enemy of the people.

There is no turning back. Dudamel is no dissident, but he has been prompted by conscience to speak out. Those of us who admire Dudamel as a musician and a man will be heartened by his stance. It will not have been easy for him to abandon the role of regime poster-boy and accept its abuse. He does not know whether it its safe for him to return to Venezuela.

But he has stood, once again, for his beliefs in human rights and justice, and he will now be aware that, like every true artist, he is fundamentally an outsider.


Comments (32)

  1. enemigopublico says:

    Dudamel has been closely allied to the Venezuelan government for his entire adult life, and he owes a considerable amount of his success to that government, which has handed him anything he wanted on a platter for nearly two decades. It is hard to imagine less of an outsider, this little tiff notwithstanding.

    Maduro has not declared Dudamel an enemy of the people. Dudamel’s schedule still shows him leading a tour to China and HK with the Simon Bolivar orchestra in October. That tour may yet fall and the cracks may widen, but for now he has not ‘abandoned the role of regime poster-boy’.

  2. Vince Jackson says:

    Please don’t sugarcoat Hugo Chavez. The man gave the illusion that he was a leader for the poor, yet somehow his daughter became the wealthiest person in all of Venezuela. Chavez was a crook and enabled his successor to have the power he has now. What Maduro is doing now is only possible because of Hugo Chavez.

  3. Patrick Gillot says:

    Chavez is a Communist Criminal so shame on Dudamel. He is now trying to save himself from the upcoming disaster in Venezuela. He is a miniscule conductor as proven among many example by his dreadful January 1st concert in Vienna.

    1. Anon says:

      What is the particular quality of a ‘communist criminal’ compared to a regular non-attributed ‘criminal’.
      Or are you an old man, brainwashed in the McCarthy era, who believes everyone who voices or sympathizes with communist ideas is a criminal?
      So Jesus is a criminal too?

      1. Patrick Gillot says:

        a “communist criminal” is a criminal who commit his crimes to advance communism. Alternatively he could be a criminal who happens to be a communist or a communist who happens to be a criminal. In any case it applies to Maduro. I am old and knowledgeable enough to know that Communism killed in excess of 100 million people in the 20th century. Are you a young brainless millenial?

        1. Holly Golightly says:

          Yes, their crimes are all committed in the context of help and concern for their fellow men and women. It’s the caring that makes me want to wretch endlessly.

    2. Ungeheuer says:

      Agree the man is a dreadful, miniscule conductor, overhyped for political correctness reasons by the West’s globalist elites as the industry’s Diversity poster boy. It is a music industry in abject despair, elevating mediocrity at whatever cost so long as the mediocrity helps these elites assuage their collective racial, ethnic, and class existential guilt.

      1. Edgar says:

        Thus Spake Ungeheuer. The Universe trembles, and even the sun just got into hiding, though only temporary. Because it knows that without it there would be no Ungeheuer left to thunder, and no one of us to comment here. Let this thing play itself out, armchair conductors. I propose we all make efforts, however small or big, to advance cultural and musical education and literacy, which are being starved under the brankruptokleptocapitalism of our present day. Let’s not judge Mr. Dudamel, but be ourselves moral agents and effective activists toward greater peace, justice and freedom for all, starting right in front of our own doorsteps. That is the only matter by which we ourselves will be judged. Let history judge the conductor, just as it will judge us.

        1. Patrick Gillot says:

          Great idea lets change things beginning with Venezuela which seems in direr straits than our armchair capitalism. Funny when another Socialist Communist country collapses we are told that Capitalism does not work.

          1. Gary says:

            The great majority of the world operates under capitalist principles. The vast majority of the world’s people live in shitholes. You say capitalism works?

          2. M2N2K says:

            No economic model known to humans is perfect, because neither are humans themselves, but, compared to socialist version, capitalist system still works considerably better in economic terms.

      2. James says:

        Easy, Zach….Bedlam is closing in on you.

  4. enemigopublico says:

    I wonder what the grounds are for stating that ‘he has been prompted by conscience to speak out’.

    That is possible, but it is also possible that he has been prompted by:

    – the waves of criticism directed at him by his fellow Venezuelans
    – concern about possible harm to his career if he remained associated with a dictatorial regime
    – pressure from his main employer, the LA Phil

    Or a mixture of any or all of the above.

    One thing that is clear from Dudamel’s career is that he is a moral follower, not a leader. For most of his life he has danced to the tune of José Antonio Abreu, whose opportunism is legendary, and his recent pronouncements have been very tardy, made when he had little alternative.

    There is a big difference between using words like human rights and justice in your press releases and actually embodying them through your actions. When the story of music and the Bolivarian revolution is finally written, Dudamel will feature as one of the government’s most effective propagandists and as a defender of the interests of a select few classical musicians, not the Venezuelan people as a whole.

  5. Anon says:

    He probably has no future in the US, since the private funding of the classical music scene there is mostly from sources strictly aligned with global capital interests, which want to get the oil resources of Venezuela badly back into their hands again.

    It is different in continental Europe, so I would bet he will come back to Europe after his stint in L.A.

    1. Patrick Gillot says:

      of course he has no future in Europe where talent is required. His Future could only be in the US but he blew it away with his support for the Communist dictator. That is the reason for his eleven hour attempt at the exit door.

      1. Frankster says:

        One of the odd things about comments like this is his major engagements in Vienna, Berlin, La Scala and the Israel Philharmonic. Those orchestras are either self-governing or have a significant input as to who conducts and they all fight for his time.

        1. Holly Golightly says:

          That’s perfectly true but musicians and artists are not known for their political smarts.

  6. BillG says:

    The question has come up, what is a “communist dictator”? Perhaps examples from history would serve. Consider Joseph Stalin or Mao Tse Tung. Each managed to out do the German wannbe by killing more of their own people than the German wannabe. While the German was just a plain “dictator” he focused his efforts on just a particular slice of his people. The “communist dictator” were much more even handed, killing wide swaths. (OK Unca Joe started on Ukrainians). All the true sense of fraternal socialism

  7. Nigel says:

    I’m sorry but if the dude is truly a fellow traveler shouldn’t he give all or most of his sizable paycheck to the system from which he came?

  8. herrera says:

    Dudamel was a prodigy that always needed a powerful patron to advance at each stage of his career : Abreu for anointing him, Chavez for supporting him, Deborah Borda for employing him, Maduro for keeping him.

    But as his patrons moved on, one by one, and as his swooning fans thinned out, one by one, he faced what all prodigies face: growing into maturity without the hype and relying only on his native abilities.

    And on his native abilities, one striking fact emerges: Despite his meteoric rise to music director in LA (gracias Sugar Mommy Borda), it is interesting that he was never seriously considered for positions that opened up later that he would have wanted — Berlin, La Scala, Vienna Opera (dare I say even Boston, Gewandhaus or NY?).

    As Maduro said, “Welcome to politics”, yes indeed, welcome to the real world Gustavo.

  9. Bruce says:

    Time will tell if this will sink Dudamel, as some are predicteing, or if it’s more an analogy to Karajan’s Nazi party membership, which cast a shadow over his whole career (there were numerous artists who refused to work with him) but ultimately did not diminish it.

  10. PaulD says:

    “He was apparently impressed by the persistence of mass demonstrations against the regime, and outraged by the murder of a Sistema musician.” It is the last part of the sentence which is the most troubling to me. Where was his outrage when non-musicians were being killed? Does he believe that the lives of musicians are more valuable than those of accountants or carpenters?

    1. herrera says:

      He thought by being silent he could best protect the people in El Sistema, but the problem was that he himself kept sucking on the teats that fed The System while the rest of Venezuela was, literally, starving to death.

      He thought he was being quiet, but all the world heard was the greedy slurping sound he made.

  11. Ravi Narasimhan says:

    I had no idea he was such a bad conductor and was actually incapable of healing the sick and raising the dead. To think I enjoyed so many of his concerts. I had better reprogram those memories and fast. Where are those electrodes…

  12. John says:

    He’s damned when he says nothing.
    Then he’s damned when he says something.

    Make up your minds, nonentities!

    1. Holly Golightly says:

      Deplorables. If you don’t mind.

  13. Santiago Rotel says:

    Indeed, Ravi Narasimhan, you have NO idea, thanks to the complexities of this useless argument.
    Dudamel IS a great conductor, but his involvement in politics have badly damaged his reputation.
    Leave history to judge his accomplishments and those of his betraitors…!

    1. Ravi Narasimhan says:

      Fortunately, I have you good people of the Internet to ejumacate me.

      1. Santiago Rotel says:

        Sadly you are not the only one in need of education in this blog…!

  14. Holly Golightly says:

    Karma for The Dude.

  15. Santiago Rotel says:

    Sadly you are not the only one in need of education in this blog…!

  16. Rgiarola says:

    Above all he was never the “Messiah”, as his PR used to spread around during the beginning of the Dudamel mania. He was such a kind of a boys band of classical music. Like “new kids on the block” and “N’sync”. They came along a huge sucess, all fuzzy and giant hype and sometime later just disappear and no one cares anymore. It was never about the music….ohohohohoho


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