A second Venezuelan conductor calls for an end to Government atrocities

A second Venezuelan conductor calls for an end to Government atrocities


norman lebrecht

February 24, 2014

Jan Wagner, Caracas born, is former principal conductor of the Odense Symphony Orchestra in Denmark and a regular guest conductor with the Orquesta Sinfónica de Venezuela. Today, he joins the protests by Gabriela Montero and Carlos Izcaray against the continuing violent suppression of dissenting citizens in his country. Here is Jan’s letter to Slipped Disc:

jan wagner


As another Venezuelan citizen, artist, musician and conductor living abroad I wish to express my solidarity with the people of my country and add my voice to the thousands around the world who are calling for an end to the violence, oppression, injustice and flagrant violations of human rights that are currently being infringed upon a peaceful nation by a ruthless and despotic government.

As peaceful demonstrators without arms, our only hope to help bring closure to this crisis in Venezuela is to appeal to world leaders, artist of repute, intellectuals, the media and ordinary citizens outside of Venezuela to join the cause by spreading the word and making their voices heard.

Many of my musician colleagues, friends and family members in Venezuela are afraid of expressing themselves through the already restricted access to social media out fear of repercussions and persecution by the government and out of fear of loosing their jobs and, thus, their livelihoods.

The word is already beginning to spread about the atrocities already committed (and which continue to be committed against my people) by the current pseudo-revolution. Postings on social media already illuminate the many barbaric acts that continue to unfold. But we must continue the build pressure on the government to cease it illegitimate stronghold on power.

Let us not forget that it was a Venezuelan Simón Bolívar who led the most fantastic and courageous battle against oppression in the early 19th Century and virtually single-handedly liberated, not only our country, but also Ecuador, Peru, Colombia and Bolivia, laying the foundation for democracy for most of Latin America. Where are the grateful leaders of those countries and when will they express their support and solidarity with the people of Venezuela? Don’t leave Venezuela alone now when it needs you the most!

As an individual completely opposed to violence and a firm believer in the power of expression through music, I’d like to share a recording of a work by one of Venezuela’s most significant composers, Evencio Castellanos, whose EL Rio de las Siete Estrellas (The River of the Seven Stars) evokes the spirit in which our republic was conceived. The work was inspired by a poem written by Venezuelan poet Andres Eloy Blanco whose poem, “Canto al Orinoco” is a fabled account of pre-colonial Venezuelan history leading up to its independence in 1821 (One a side note: yes, the Venezuelan flag has seven stars. Not eight. That’s one of many insulting and capricious atrocities committed against the people of Venezuela by the current “Chavista” revolution abhorring the memor, dignity and history of our predecessors).


May the power of this music inspire us all to help liberate our Venezuelan brothers and sisters from the tyranny of those who currently oppress them.

Jan Wagner, proud Venezuelan national (I.D. 6.819.447) and proud dual citizen of the United States of America.


  • José Bergher says:

    Bravoi, Jan!!!!!!

  • Norman, Jan hasn’t been chief conductor in Odense for about 10 years.

    I know cos’ I was 2. horn in the orhestra during his tenure.

    I can say firsthand that he’s a wonderfully sympathetic person.

    • Jan Wagner says:

      Dear Jesper,

      You are, of course, correct. I ended my tenure with the OSO in 2002 (so, actually 12 years ago to be exact).

      I am sure this was an inadvertent error on the part of either Mr. Lebrecht (to whom I am most grateful for agreeing to post my letter) or the editors of Slipped Disc. To confirm, I did not introduce myself to Mr. Lebrecht as the principal conductor of the OSO. I have been (and proudly continue to be) a member of the facutly and Professor of Music at Shenandoah Conservatory and Artistic Director of the Shenandoah Conservatory Symphony Orchestra for 12 years now. And, I have been a regular guest conductor of the OSV intermittently between 1996 until 2012 (my last project with them was the Naxos recording of Castellanos’ works). Who knows when I’ll return to my homeland to conduct as I have been by now, I am sure, “black-listed” by the current government and banned from entering the country (that’s what despotic governments do). As grateful as I am to you, Jesper, for clarifying the error, I would have hoped that you would have focused your comments on the topic at hand (the crisis in Venezuela), not some inadvertent editorial error. I hope you wil consider spreading the word among your colleagues and friends. All best wishes, Jan




  • David Boxwell says:

    Maduro was democratically elected, and Venezuela’s bourgeoisie doesn’t seem to like that outcome.

    • Jan Wagner says:

      Dear Mr. Boxwell,

      With all due respect (as I am not sure what country you are from): If you are, like me, a Venezuelan citizen with a “foreign name”, then you have, most certainly, been misinformed of the events that have occurred in our country during the last 15 years and of any of its history. Even if the current governmet was democratically (in fair and square elections) elected to power , that does not excuse it from committing the attrocities that it is infringing on its people for excercising their constitutional right to speak their mind in peaceful protests. Furthermore, Venezuela became an independent republic in 1821. And for sure, most of whatever aristocracy that remained after the Spaniards left has surely become extinct by now. In Venezuela there are only poor people and very rich people. I am certainly NOT part of the latter and any member of the current government makes a lot more money than I do). I am decendant of Europeans (German father and Argentinian/Czech mother) who immigrated to South American escaping the attrocities committed there before and during WWII. I cannot help it that my father’s name is Wagner which is as common a name in Germany as Lopez or Perez (etc) is in Venezuela. With best wishes, Jan Wagner

    • Greg Hlatky says:

      Fine. They’re getting the government they wanted.

      • Jan Wagner says:

        WIth all due respect, many people are coerced into voting one way or another. That is a well-known fact.

        Is it not really appropriate nor fair to suggest that the people of Venezuela deserve what they are getting now.

        • ed says:

          It sounds more like the people who voted for Maduro, and for the mayors who won (the overwhelming majority of whom were from his party) are being coerced by the street violence of the non-peaceful demonstrators (sic. thugs) who lost. (Note: I’m distinguishing the peaceful demonstrators who lost from the violent ones who lost.) As for the “atrocities”, including ‘coerced voting’, could you provide a factual rundown and some verification of those before invoking the ghost of Simon Bolivar? The pressure to be politically correct and man the ramparts is absolutely delicious, but if one is going to be so cavalier about democracy when the people one doesn’t want to win do, then where does it leave democracy? Are our votes more important (and ‘exceptional’) than the poor schlunk who voted for the winner, just because we (not me, personally, I’m just a schlunk) are members of an economic or intellectual elite?

          Mr. Wagner, I think Greg is really on your side and was taking a potshot at Mr. Boxwell, whose comments were concise and on the mark as usual.

          • Jan Wagner says:

            Dear Ed,

            I think Maestro Izcaray’s quote by Mandela (see below) pretty much sums it up in response to your comments about “democracy”. I, of course, cannot provide a “factual rundown” as this is surely beyond the scope of this blog (just like I cannot provide a factual rundown/verification of the attrocities the Nazis committed against the Jews but I would not dare suggest they never happened). The “atrocities” and the “coertions” in Venezuela have been well documented and readily available (read published articles available onine, posted photos and video postings – there is extensive video footage posted on YouTube of government “guards” accompanying voters to the voting booths to ensure they vote for Chavez; there is also video footage of government employees burning electoral ballots immediately following the announced results in order to hide the real results, etc.; there also is proof that the government illegally issued identity cards to hoards of Cuban and Chinese immigrant to boost the numbers at the elections; and the list goes on and on. My “invoking the ghost of Simon Bolivar” was used to ask why the leaders of those countries that Bolivar liberated over 200 years ago were not speaking out in favor of the people of Venezuela. We know why, of course. Chavez and now Maduro have invested a lot of capital and oil to ensure solidarity with their movement (no, I don’t have proof but this is well know). Speaking of “invoking the ghost of Bolivar”, how more insulting, humiliating and disrespectful can a leader (Chavez) get and dishonor the memory of Bolivar by literally exhuming its corpse and subjecting it to DNA tests in order to prove and suggest that Bolivar had been murdered by the Americas! (yes, it’s all there for you to read/see/watch). Finally, no, my vote is not more important than other people’s votes. But when Chavez and his movement has had 15 years to effect positive change but has, in fact, done quite the opposite and actually worsened conditions (i.e. economy, violence, ensure peace and uphold people’s basic rights) then I think it is the people’s right to speak their mind. Surely the millions of people that are taking to the streets right now in Venezuela and around the world in protest cannot be considered exceptional or elitist. Bests, Jan

    • Doug says:

      If I recall, if you’ll pardon the snark, Kim Jong-un was also ‘democratically elected.’

      • andres valery says:

        Hitler too! And im sure there are millions of corpses who wouldnt be happy if they could read the xenophobic absurdities some of the people on this blog have said (boxell and hlatky) 😉

    • “If there is no food when you are hungry, if there is no medicine when you are sick, if there is ignorance and the people’s fundamental rights are not respected, democracy is but an empty shell, even if its citizens vote and there is parliament.” NELSON MANDELA

  • ed says:

    Maestro- A fine quote it is even if it has perhaps been taken out of context and maybe inaptly applied? Yes, health care has suffered in Venezuela- it has suffered a lot, but maybe not entirely because of the fault of the government. At the same time, access to education has improved for the poor, has it not? and the literacy rate is now 93%, 94%, 95%? Does that tell us that the people in your country are an ignorant bunch of dodos? What’s more, I’ve been told lots of people read their constitution every day, at least they read it more than my compadres here do (where most think the Constitution is a physic you take to be less incontinent). John Pilger’s film on Venezuela looks at what that means. It is, after all, printed even on the packages of food, no? And, while this may stick in some people’s craw, reading it has contributed to a consciousness of one’s rights and an active democracy down at the community and neighborhood level, something that has actively engaged many who would otherwise be disenfranchised. And, poverty, especially extreme poverty has fallen at a faster rate than on rest of the continent, or at least you can read that in studies by respected mainstream organizations (World Bank, etc.) So, while the quote’s a good one, is it really fair to apply it? And if you still want to, then what about applying it also to Detroit, Michigan, which has now become a bankrupt ghost town selling its assets right and left to the vultures on Wall Street just to stay afloat, while it is sinking fast, glub, glub, glub.

    And, I ask you, was Mandela speaking about or intending these words to be applied to Venezuela when he uttered them? Do you know how he regarded Chavez? I myself don’t have any inside information, but I suspect he was not so critical, having been a friend and soulmate of Fidel Castro, another fellow that so many in the upper middle class and above love to hate. ( See, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/06/nelson-mandela-castro_n_4400212.html to learn more about Mandela’s world view.)

    By the way, my comments are not intended to minimize or ignore what you were forced to endure ten years ago when you were subjected to enhanced interrogation- something no one should have been subjected to- nor ignore what happened to the thousands who were subjected to it during the ‘Dirty Wars’, or what our Senate Intelligence Committee investigated of the same by our own CIA in a 6,000 page report that it still refuses to declassify and release to the public, or what so many innocent schlunks have had to face after being dragged into a Bronx or Brooklyn precinct house. So, what I am asking for is context and a more universal application of the rule, and to look at whether one’s position, or class, or self interest may also also influencing one’s evaluation. Just a question.