End of the road for Simon Bolivar Orchestra?

January 10, 2018 by norman lebrecht


The Lucerne Festival has let it be known that the Venezuelan flagship orchestra will not be performing there with Gustavo Dudamel this summer. They were scheduled for September 15 and 16.

There are two underlying reasons:

1 Dudamel is now persona non grata with the regime.

2 So many of the best players have fled the country that the orchestra can no long field a credible ensemble.

It’s Simon Bolivar, RIP.

Lucerne has called in Mirga and the CBSO and Cecilia Bartoli and her ensemble as replacements.

Other festivals will also be affected by the cancellation.

Comments (34)

  1. Manu says:

    Musically we will miss nothing…
    But seeing the replacements, I wonder how mediocre the artistic planners can be. Just pure mainstream…

    1. Topcat says:

      I suspect it’s more about availability than mediocre planning skills

    2. ben LEGEBEKE says:

      Unbelievable they choose the overrated CBSO and their mediocre conductor. There are so many better orchestras in Europe. Not to mention some in my country Holland. For instance the orchestras in the Hague & Rotterdam outclass easily the CBSO….

      1. Arturo says:

        Mirga is the new Dude. Novelty factor, that’s why they called in CBSO.

        I don’t think it’s all about the quality of the orch. Holland’s orch’s are terrific but they’re the status quo – they’re expected to be good. CBSO & Mirga are new, unexpected, unproven, exciting.

        They should have called in an orchestra from Spain. Cheaper, unexpected and very good. Spain’s talent is now feeding orchestras like CBSO, Rotterdam and Concertgebouw as well as LA Phil and more. Why not just go to the source?

        1. RW2013 says:

          What exactly do you see as the “novelty”?
          The Tymoschenko hairdo at her recent Berlin outing was the only novelty for me.

    3. FS60103 says:

      Bizarre comments here. The CBSO has been a regular visitor to Lucerne, under Nelsons and before that under Rattle, as far back as the 1990s. Hardly a novelty. And every significant critic who’s heard them recently under Grazinyte-Tyla has rated the partnership extremely highly. I’m guessing from your comments, though, that you haven’t actually heard them live.

      1. Saxon Broken says:

        Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla is very well regarded in Austria/Switzerland/Germany. And not just as a token woman. And the CBSO has a good reputation as a leading second-tier orchestra which also plays interesting repertoire. They are known and available.

  2. herrera says:

    The Simon Bolivar Orchestra and The Dude were always The Menudos of classical music.

    So cute, latinos playing Mahler and dancing to Bernstein’s Mambo as encore.

    This boy band act had gotten old even within El Sistema and as propaganda for Venezuela. Good riddance.

    1. Anon says:

      We all have gotten old, haven‘t we?

      1. herrera says:

        That’s why Dudamel is going solo, like Ricky Martin.

    2. Sue says:

      I always regarded it as an excellent orchestra! And it gave Latin American musicians a chance to play on the world stage. But they have fallen foul of the socialist utopia. Who’d have thought?

  3. Jon H says:

    I will miss that orchestra. Those performances with Abbado conducting showed how refined they could be (nothing against Dudamel). That said, many people just listen to the technique – but what is special is them as performers communicating the message of Beethoven… The Berlin Philharmonic can say it very well, but it’s not from the voice of a young Venezuelan.

    1. Jon H says:

      We don’t need to prove that yet another youth orchestra can blast through Mahler 6, or Rite of Spring… Giving young people something to do, or trying to save orchestras is I think not the primary reason for having these youth orchestras – because it’s not addressing what the audience is supposed to get out of it (in a way that changes us). I like to think some young person is going to show me something in Beethoven, or Mozart, or Bruckner that I’ve never heard before – and how great that would be for them. Why not start with the music the audience doesn’t understand, imagine the power that is for a performer who is young.

      1. Troy van Leeuwen says:

        Ehem…the Bolivars stopped being a youth orchestra a while ago, most of them being over 30 years old, so nobody should be moaning about the loss for those middle class youths

        1. Sue says:

          Least of all making the thinly veiled racist attacks.

  4. David says:

    This is so sad.
    I enjoyed watching this orchestra so much on u tube
    A sad loss to classical music lovers everywhere

  5. Urania says:

    Ok I will check the replacements….! 🙂

  6. John Doe says:

    3. Venezuela can no longer afford to subsidize the pleasures of well-heeled European audiences.

  7. MacroV says:

    Well, is the next step an Simon Bolivar Orchestra-in exile? Surely Dudamel has the star power and access to the resources to make it happen.

    So I guess Dudamel now won’t be maligned as a Maduro puppet?

    1. anonanon says:

      No Simon Bolivar orchestra can exist “in exile” unless there are enough ex patriot Venezuelan professional classical musicians out there. I can’t imagine it.

      There are MANY countries that I can imagine being able to field a top flight national orchestra in exile (Israel, Germany, China, Korea, Japan, US…), just no Latin American country at all.

    2. John Doe says:

      He’ll be maligned as an ex-Maduro puppet who jumped ship when it started to sink.

      1. Anon says:

        When was the last time you risked your life, your responsibilities, your family, in a political struggle with a totalitarian regime, Mr. Self Righteous armchair resistance fighter?

        1. enemigopublico says:

          Dudamel did not risk his life, his responsibilities, his family, in a political struggle with a totalitarian regime – he had a very cosy and mutually beneficial relationship with that regime for many years, as any Venezuelan could tell you. Maduro was planning to name a new concert hall designed by Frank Gehry after Dudamel.

          1. The View from America says:

            … and let’s not forget his cushy salary + benefits package from the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra …

  8. Ravi Narasimhan says:

    Their two 2007 concerts in Los Angeles when they were still a youth orchestra were terrific and I remember them vividly. I hope they can regroup in time.

  9. Graeme Withers says:

    There is a genuine Venezuelan youth orchestra still [I think] named for Teresa Carreno. Does anyone know what’s happening to it?

    1. enemigopublico says:

      Struggling to keep going, like all the other Venezuelan orchestras, now that there’s no money to pay for it.

  10. Bolivarismandthedude says:

    Bolivar were the face if the regime while it was fashionable. Here’s the reality…socialism…chavismo and Bolivarism destroyed the country. The dude is complicit but the industry continues to fawn over him.

  11. FS60103 says:

    An orchestra is effectively silenced by politicians, and there are people on here actually gloating.

    I wish I could say that surprised me.

    1. enemigopublico says:

      It hasn’t been silenced – it has had its foreign tours cancelled. God forbid that a Venezuelan orchestra funded by the Venezuelan government should actually have to perform in Venezuela, rather than jaunting around the world for the benefit of Slipped Disc readers.

  12. George King says:

    Cecilia Bartoli (whatever anyone may think of her voice) has been working for some years now with historically-informed instrumental ensembles, all of them of virtuoso standard. Absolutely nothing mediocre about them at all.

  13. Steve says:

    So clear why Dudamel was holding back…
    I hope those of you who were bad mouthing Dudamel are happy now?
    Musically the world WILL miss a lot, not just because they were ‘cute Latinos’ but because through a project of great vision and devotion, these passionate and motivated young people could really inject new life into classical music and provide hope to many around the world, as clearly has been shown by the mimicking of the el sistema concept all over the place.
    Not the least they were also introducing new repertoire including some excellent but neglected Latin american composers, and giving a new take on some of our long overdrawn out warhorses..I really hope in some form they will survive.

  14. El Cid says:

    Sadly, Dudamel is viewed by many of the excellent musicians from Venezuela as a traitor making common cause with the enemy of Venezuela. Who wants to play with a traitor.

  15. El Cid says:

    Dudamel has crashed and burned for Venezuelans. He is viewed as a spoiled and very wealth millionaire who has lost touch with Venezuelans. Dudamel is no longer an artist of the people, but an entertainer of the rich and powerful Hollywood elites. What can you expect from a poor working class kid from the Venezuelan provinces. For Venezuelans, Dudamel is a traitor. Sad.

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