Pianist launches brave assault on her 'brutalised, corrupt' country

Pianist launches brave assault on her 'brutalised, corrupt' country


norman lebrecht

October 12, 2011

The international soloist Gabriela Montero, famed for her improvisations, is about to perform her first fully-composed work, titled Ex Patria.

The premiere is in Nuremberg on October 20th with the Academy of Saint Martin in the Fields, conductor Patrick Lange, and the theme is made clear by the title. Gabi has left her home country, disgusted by the excesses of the Chavez regime which, despite chaos and corruption, remains the darling of the world’s political left. She has sent me the text she has written to accompany her concerto. I print it below.

It is her second anti-Chavez manifesto, after decking out her last EMI record in national colours and a political lament.

Tonight, she is appearing at London’s Limelight Club with the Mahler Chamber Soloists. Catch her if you can. She delivers more fun than is legal in a formal concert hall.


As an expatriate Venezuelan, it may be of little surprise that I should wish to express, in music, a longing for the beautiful country of my birth.

However, my debut as a composer reaches beyond private nostalgia to a very public cry. ExPatria is a portrayal of a country barely recognizable from that of my youth. It is my emotional response to the loss of Venezuela herself to lawlessness, corruption, chaos and rates of murder among the highest in the world.

The opening chord is intended to jolt the public from silence and apathy. It is the immediate exposure of a tragedy which has accelerated beneath the thinnest veil of democracy with negligeable and inconsequential international scrutiny.

The motifs introduced by the french horn and piano reflect a fleeting recollection of an innocent moment, an ominous calm. The theme is quickly brutalized, corrupted and stolen by an imposing, percussive and militaristic interruption, the “martellato” section depicting the daily gunfire to which Venezuelans have grown accustomed.

Emerging from the violence, soloist and orchestra acquiesce in a slow and rhapsodic dialogue of mourning, culminating in a disconsolate and unison lament. The poetic rhapsody itself is soon subjected to a chromatic and accelerating decay, leaving the audience to glimpse the maddening disorder of a dismantled and suffocated society.

My musical statement is not a political one. I am not a politician. It is my nation’s story. It is my regret.

Venezuela - Venezuela beautiful landscape


  • As usual, there are two sides to the tortilla. Yes, Chavez is a dictatorial madman, but politicians like him often come to power largely in response to the long history of US economic and political exploitation in Latin America. The murderous juntas the US created in Argentina, Chile, Guatemala, and Nicaragua are just a few examples. For me, an artistic statement examining Venezuela in the larger picture of Latin America’s plight would be more meaningful. It would tell much more about her nation’s story. And from an artistic viewpoint, wider perspectives and greater moral depths generally lead to better art. It creates that move from propaganda to moral vision. All the same, I admire her effort to create political art. There is no more difficult task.

    • stephen haufe says:

      Ya, Ya, Ya, the USA is always the Great Villain, none of these poor Latinos can think, do for themselves. This type of ridiculous hyperbole is obvious bull-puckky to all , except those so blinded by bias and hatred they can’t see straight, or at all . And frankly is disrespectful of the Venezuelians , who receive NO benefit from such diatribes.

      • Actually, you raise an important point. Due to the nature of the global economy, smaller countries lose a great deal of their autonomy and are thus prevented from making their own decisions. This has caused severe political conflict in several Latin American countries. These conflicts contributed to the rise of Chavez in Venezuela and Evo Morales in Boliva, among others.

        The Mayan genocide in Guatemala illustrates the violent role the US plays in Latin America. The Mayans were mostly farmers in the interior jungle areas. They were thought to be supporters of the EPO revolutionaries, so about 300,000 Mayans were systematically murdered by US trained and funded death squads. 626 villages were attacked. Over 300 villages were entirely razed. The inhabitants were often raped and tortured before being killed. Children were murdered as readily as adults, often by taking them by their feet and slamming their heads against walls, or by dropping them into wells.

        The genocide reached its height between 1981-1983 due to close support offered by the Reagan administration. So many Mayans were mass murdered during this period that the jungle overgrew their farms and massively changed the satellite photos of Guatemala. The Yale University Genocide Studies Program has provided the satellite images on its website, which you can see here:


        These events were largely ignored by the corporate media so that even today many are not aware of it. It is thus often referred to as “The Silent Holocaust.” Symbolic of the barbarism was that some members of the death squads wore necklaces made of baby skulls because they thought it brought them good luck. The funding for the death sqauds came from the USA. Almost all of the officers and many members were trained at Fort Benning, Georgia. These events, of course, are probably beyond any sort of musical response — though I wish there were a way.

    • Alfredo Sanchez says:

      As I see it, Gabriela is only doing her work as an artist and a musician. William is the one who is using her statement to do politics. She’s not.

      • I would say both Gabriella and I are being political. If her work is successful, it will bring forth the kind of discussions we have raised here. Sadly, it will most likely be largely ignored.

  • Doug says:

    So according to Osborne’s logic we can blame Hitler on…..French economic and political exploitation? Ah no , I see, Hitler came to rise also because of the United States! This is so easy.

    • Dafydd Llywelyn. Composer in Munich. says:

      Dear Norman, I fear that Doug hasn’t quite understood what Gabriella Montero wishes to express 1) in her letter to you & 2) in her Composition” Ex-Patria”, & 3) William Osborne’s rather astute analysis of the reality of ” cause & affect ” of South American Economic & Political Exploitation,not to mention that of Iraq & Iran,etc,etc,a seemingly never ending story. For Doug’s infomation, Henry Ford,the founder of the Ford Automobile Industry in Detroit, U S A ,was not only one of Hitlers greatest admirers,but also one of his important Financers. Henry Ford’s extremely Anti-Semitic book was one of Hitlers favourite books,& he based many of his theories & reasons for the extermination of the Jewish Folk from Europe & his finally created Holocaust inspired by the writings of Henry Ford,& of course not forgetting the ” Brit ” Houston Chamberlin & his writings,who lived at the Wagner Estate in Bayreuth,who regularly met Hitler there, & who was also in touch with Henry Ford. Perhaps one should also examine the strange case of John F Kennedy’s father ,an important American figure at the time in Politics,Industry & the world of international diplomacy,who was an other leading American Sympathiser of Hitler ! Perhaps Doug can this time ” read between the lines ” ? !-Sincerely, Dafydd Llywelyn.

      • Dafydd Llywelyn. Composer in Munich. says:

        PS: It would be interesting to hear from Gabriella Montero, & her Conductor Colleague Gustavo Dudamel in Los Angeles what role,financially,politically & otherwise,does or did CHAVEZ have in creating or supporting & upholding that very excellent Simon Bolivar Youth Symphony Orchestra Project “El Systema ” of Signor Abreu, of giving the underprivelidged youth a chance for a better life in & through Music,with the creation of all those hundreds of small youth chamber orchestras all over Venezuela,giving them istruments of their own choice & free Tuition etc !- D L.

        • BEatriz Lopez says:


  • Don Jaeger says:

    On the other side of the coin, there is the wonderful music education program in Venezula known as “El Sistema”, which has become a example world wide of a program which has bettered the lives hundreds of thousands of young kids thru early music training. Look at Gustavo Dudamel, the dynamic conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, who is a product of this program. Cities around the world are now starting to emulate this program, or “system” of getting kids out of the barios when they are young and getting them involved in serious music. So all is not bad in Venezula it seems!

    • Eugenia Meijer says:

      But this is not due to Mr. Chavez but to Mr. Jose Antonio Abreu and it started 36 years ago. No Chavez at that time !
      Yes Chavez helps them and so did the presidents before. Thanks solely to the cleverness and dedication of Mr. Abreu!

      • jstypo says:

        Indeed, iron-fisted autocrat Hugo Chávez only keeps the “sistema” going for use as part a very well funded propaganda machine, much in the way his Cuban masters do with their own athletes to lull undiscerning observers into thinking these are crowning achievements of their respective “revolutions”. This auspicious plea by Gabriela spotlights the abysmal difference in the way Hugo Chávez would like the world to think Venezuela is run today, with the wide-ranging demoralizing corruption that is reality.

  • I fully understand the need to express powerful and deep feelings as Gabriela Montero does, but I am always uneasy about the injection of politics into music even if the cause is good. It feels too much like the physicist opining on cookery. I am very interested in Gabriela Montero’s music, but less so in her political views–which I am probably in agreement with!

    As there seems to be so much intersection of music and politics lately, I just put up this post on the issue:


  • It’s refreshing to see a compositional attempt to speak against a totalitarian socialist regime rather than embrace it as some sort of necessary opposition to the worlds ills, which by the way, is on the rise here in the US through a few very rich celebrities holding up this tyrant as some sort of example to be emulated. Ultimately any dictator, like Chavez, is solely responsible for the injustices he or she brings to the country they have chosen to steal from the rightful citizenry legacy, for their own personal egoistic needs, just in order to control bully humanity. Chavez’s values have led to a predictable decay in the lives of his countrymen. Thank you Gabriela Montero. Thank you so very much following such notables as Beethoven, Schoenberg, and other musicians of stature in providing a work that speaks.

  • Colin Eatock says:

    I recently had a conversation with Gidon Kremer that touched on the subject of music and politics. You can read it here: http://www.colineatock.com/1/post/2011/10/gidon-kremer-speaks.html

  • CV says:



    Is it possible for a young artist who does not have a strong financial foundation to begin a career in classical music performance?

    A strong financial foundation certainly eases the road. It helps for paying managers the advance they often require, (as mentioned above); it helps with promotion as in ads, and to drive recordings. Even without paying a manager, a strong financial background would certainly help in “buying” the publicity needed in the hope of attracting an artist representative. The arts have always needed sponsors, whether it was a royal family as in Haydn’s day, or the salon days of the Liszt and Chopin times, or governments, as in the Soviet Union. Today the funding for the arts is likely to be found in the corporate world. It is up to the artist to aggressively pursue this route.

    If money can be found, it is critical to have a clear path as to where the money should be earmarked. And this is where the artist is again in charge of his/her own destiny. They have to know what to ask for. There are options: funds can buy out recitals in major markets, book tours, support concert organizations in exchange for appearances, motivate managers to move careers, support/produce recordings, support directory listings/ads in musical trade magazines and websites. The sad part is that it can take large sums of money and corporations will want to see a return on their investment. So the challenge is to first have the right advice and strategy as to how to map out your career, should the funds be available and then seek the funds to sustain it.

    Nobody really has the formula. Timing is of utmost importance, such as the time between competitions, when a new flock of first prizewinners appear on the horizon. Sometimes there is only a small window of opportunity that needs to be grabbed.

    Money alone is not the answer. The media has a tremendous power to drive influence, curiosity and trigger attention and, as such, any potential newsworthy event is worth doing. For example, when Van Cliburn and I came to the then Soviet Union, a Cold War was raging and to have two Americans in Moscow, was news onto itself.

    Capturing media attention deserves every consideration. The media has a tremendous power to influence the audience, and it should be tapped. Some artists have managed to get media attention where it may have been undeserved, yet audiences form perceptions and often follow an artist simply because they heard or read about the artist — and opinions get swayed.

    That old adage, “any publicity is good publicity,” should at least be considered and/or tried. Performing in countries where others have not tread (as I did when I performed on a tour of the People’s Republic of China, 30 years ago) countries that share no government relations, can trigger attention and the publicity can lead to performances. For example, if you are the first artist to ever play a solo concert in North Korea from your country, or Myanmar, or Albania you’ll get noticed because you are the first. Unfortunately, politics and music are very tied

    • I must hear this piece. I am fascinated by works of patriotism that also are able to express inner and outer conflicts within them. The description of the piece is such that I am very curious indeed.

  • I thought it was all over, that music had become a depleted resource (what with this mad rush for everyone to become famous and conquer the repertoire rather than be creative), but then along comes this gift called Gabriela Montera…and she’s certainly a genius but she’s more than that, she’s unique: “unigenite”

  • By the way, I don’t know why Gabriela’s statement in any way is supposed to be condoning the brutal and corrupt interferences the United States, thanks to the CIA, has been waging in South America for more than half a century. The pretension that when one picks sides in a struggle that everything is suddenly magically in place as to who is the bad guy and the good guy is immense! Pointing out corruption in one place doesn’t erase it everywhere else! Noam Chomsky by the way doesn’t condone Chavez’s extremes, so you can wipe him off of your list of “lefties” who adore Chavez: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jul/03/noam-chomsky-hugo-chavez-democracy Also if you read Gabriel’s statement, she says that it’s an emotional statement not a political statement, it’s the expression of regret as to what is lost. To call this an assault is as ridiculous as saying an assault on an already brutalized country is bravery or that something which has been brutalized needs an assault. Fortunately, I don’t believe this has anything to do with what Gabriela is saying.

    • It always is preferable to read the complete statement to garner meaning. To pull a quote from the original post; “Gabi has left her home country, disgusted by the excesses of the Chavez regime which, despite chaos and corruption, remains the darling of the world’s political left”. This tells me it is a political statement. And the history of great art has many examples over many centuries where artists have not condoned or turned a blind eye to their dissatisfaction. I hope that that tradition will continue as other traditions seem to vanish, and in her hands it seems it will.

      • Alicia Rangosch says:

        This is easier to understand than you may think, if you have a little idea of what Venezuela was and what Chavez has distorted it in 12 years, and also I must add, if you are not leftist caviar. It is not about US interventions in Guatemala, or Chomsky’s’ inaccurate appreciations of Chavez social/political achievements. It is about the deep sadness a common and helpless Venezuelan citizen feels having a Patria with no laws that protects you, that protects your family, and properties; where there are no basic rights, life has no value (you and your loved ones are not immune to gunshots or stabs, or drugs to assault you anywhere, anytime; or be a political prisoner), moral is an anti-value(right is wrong, wrong is good); expression is censured; prosperity and growth are proscribed and punished.

        I also would love to hear that piece, not only because of the patriotism that Gabriela and I share and which she beautifully and effusively expresses, but because in my opinion she is the greatest pianist of these times, her creative capacity finally went beyond her remarkable improvisations to the fields of composition!

        My best wishes to you Gabriela, now as a composer!

  • As a Venezuelan I Salute Gabriela’s stand. Let everybody know what is happening in Venezuela.

    How easy is for those who oppose U.S. and blame the U.S. for all the wrong in the world to defend Chavez and his murderous regime while living in the comfort and safety -and freedom- of the developed world; please come to Caracas and try to live in a city where you can not go out after darkness for fear of being killed.

    • BEatriz Lopez says:

      Bravo. Would also like to state that Gabriela was formed way before chavez. Child prodigy and wonderful profesors and instructors. I salute her effort to use her talent in an effort to de-politicize and bring us out of the barbaric mess we’re in.