Gustavo Dudamel: I am not a politician…

Gustavo Dudamel: I am not a politician…


norman lebrecht

September 29, 2015

The Los Angeles Philharmonic music director is frequently under pressure over his perceived alignment with the radical regime in his native Venezuela.

In an article for the Los Angeles Times today (click here), he declares both his patriotism and his political neutrality: As a Venezuelan and a public person, I often end up in the center of such political theater. Because I have been reluctant to speak out on events in my home country, I have been much criticized. Many have tried to define me and my political beliefs, or to tell me what I ought to believe. Now I wish to speak for myself.

I am neither a politician nor an activist. Although I am aware that even something as benign as conducting an orchestra may have deep political ramifications, I will not publicly take a political position or align myself with one point of view or one party in Venezuela or in the United States.

Venezuelan media, meanwhile, have made great play of a picture of Dudamel conducting the Bolivar Youth Orchestra at the United Nations this week, overshadowed by a huge portrait of the country’s former president, Hugo Chavez.

dudamel chavez portrait



  • enemigopublico says:

    There is a difference between being politically neutral and refusing to show your hand. Serving as a musical ambassador for the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is not a politically neutral role, and saying “I don’t believe in anything” does’t make it so.

    • Mark Henriksen says:

      Is Thielemann an ambassador for Germany or an artistic director for an orchestra?

      • enemigopublico says:

        Does he go on stage wearing a German flag jacket? Does he perform under a large image of Angela Merkel? Does the German secretary of state or equivalent declare “Thielemann is a standard bearer for the Federal Republic of Germany”? If so, then yes, he’s an ambassador for Germany.

        • CDH says:

          Seems a little disingenuous. Venezuela is a developing country. There is often more florid rhetoric emanating from such places than from the First World. Not that we would not long to hear our politicians take pride in our artists a little more, but we are all too cool to take pride in our people who make it abroad — we all feel we ARE the pinnacle.

        • Mark Henriksen says:

          He doesn’t have control over whose pictures he plays under or who touts his prowess as a conductor. You are giving super powers like Batman. He’s a musician,

          • enemigopublico says:

            Do you have to have super powers like Batman to have a political position? Are musicians too feebleminded to have opinions on anything? Being a musician doesn’t give you a carte blanche to wash your hands of everything.

          • Janis says:

            I recall a lot of opinion-flinging over how Riccardo Muti and other big-name baton swingers should be given total control over what happens on stage at every opera they deign to conduct. If conductors control the staging, then conductors control the staging, period.

  • Eddie Mars says:

    Meanwhile here is Renee Fleming singing for the inauguration of the Guantanamo Prison Camp Kommendant, Barack Obama

    Americans love standards so much, they have two for every occasion…

  • Dominique says:

    Again this nonsense of mixing politics and music. “Evil” Venezuelans, Russians, Americans, Chinese, Cubans, Germans, Hungarians, Israelis, Arabs…Should we check before every single concert artist’s political opinion, maybe with an online pool, in order to decide should we listen him or her? Already seeing a new generation of music critics emerging, without any musical education, but instead profound knowledge of judging artistry on the basis of daily political trends.

    • William Safford says:

      “It’s complicated.”

      –Harry Potter

    • Thomas Roth says:

      You can’t be non political in a political environment. Dudamel is a coward, nothing else.

      • Holger H. says:

        You can’t be non-political in a non-political environment either. Because there is no such thing as a non-political environment. But sure do plutocratic systems like their masses to be sedated and brainwashed…

      • Holger H. says:

        …and Dudamel never claimed to be non political anyway. He said he tries to stay neutral and not to comment publicly on his political views.
        Decisive difference.

  • Milka says:

    He knows on what side the bread is buttered , he is “not a politician nor an activist” but an Opportunist …. a product of the system .. nothing new here except the baloney .

  • Holger H. says:

    Chavez nationalized Venezuela’s oil industry, previously owned mostly by US investors, who were changing the country short. Enough said. The rest is propaganda.

  • David H. says:

    The Dude clearly has a whole head full of hairs to split. Perhaps he should check in with von Dohnanyi ‘s opinions on Strauss and Furtwangler on what happens when artists lose a spine in the face of a tyranny.

    • Holger H. says:

      Cheap talk by people who never had to do the walk. Armchair-moralists. The armchair built in slave labor sweat shops in the third world usually.

  • Joel stein says:

    Batman doesn’t have super powers

  • Leo says:

    I can see how a composer could easily be drawn in to political sides due to how a piece of music could be construed eg Beethoven’s eroica, tchaik’s 1812, Shostakovich,s anti communist film music etc but a conductor simply interprets what is on the paper and should not be unfairly questioned on how they feel politically about how their or any other country is managed or on which invitations they accept. Questioning conductors on their political views is exactly the same as dictators challenging their national composers on what they are composing. I completely sympathise with Dudamel on this. I’m afraid Barenboim and Gergiev have set the hare running on this unfortunately and now they all get questioned on this stuff but I would never decide not go to one of their concerts because they shake the hands of Arafat or Putin.

    • Milka says:

      One might give a passing thought to 8000 dead in the
      ukraine …Dudamel can play this out however it suits him and his handlers
      he even tries to preempt any protests that might come about by hinting there may be
      protests . It seems Dudamel is using Beethoven ” for Latino pride , presence history & power”, and here all along I thought it was” benign ” music making. Poor
      Ludwig seemingly a shill for Mr. Dudamel and his “benign”music making , I do wonder
      how Beethoven fits in with” Latino pride “, perhaps Dudamel could enlighten us.

  • Stephen Limbaugh says:

    He IS political… I attended the season opener last night here in Los Angeles and he had a clear ridiculous jab at conservative immigration policy.

    • CDH says:

      Conservative immigration policy IS ridiculous. Most of American conservatism is ridiculous. We are still trying to explain evolution to those people.

  • Sam McElroy says:

    Dudamel released a statement because he has been bombarded with justifiable vitriol for playing at the UN beneath a still image of Chavez, who bankrupted Venezuela, oversaw its descent into unfettered criminality, dismantled the independent branches of government, anointed Nicholas Maduro his successor via a fraudulent “election”, who in turn has driven the bus over the cliff, locking up Leopoldo Lopez, the opposition leader whose crime was to protest the barbarism under which every Venezuelan now lives, as Dudamel well knows because two of his bodyguards have now been killed, as well as members of El Sistema.

    How can he dare to insult the intelligence of his reader by claiming political neutrality, when his very orchestra system is a wing of the Venezuelan government, funded to the tune of millions by the very people whose ideology has destroyed the nation? How can he dare to insult the intelligence of the musical community by claiming political neutrality while Deutsche Grammophon parades the “revolutionary” 8-starred flag of Chavismo on the backs of every musician adorning its atrociously insensitively entitled album “fiesta!”, while 25,000 citizens a year are being murdered in a society of 95% impunity, a society whose failure can be attributed to the very ideology of that rebranded flag? Not only is Dudamel NOT politically neutral, he is overtly Chavista, as the endless parading of political symbols at every concert suggests. He is absolutely entitled to his political affiliations, and to keeping them secret if he wishes, but he chooses to manifest them wherever he goes! Have the readers of this colum looked at the photograph attached to this article? Not only is it an image of Chavez, but a still image form Chavez’s famous “sulphur” speech at the UN! A more political statement from a musician you could not find!

    On what planet of cognitive dissonance does he live? He can not simultaneously claim to work for social change and civil unity while publicly worshipping at the altar of the very man who systematically destroyed every possible virtue of civility in the nation at large, and whose only manifest social change has been a downward spiral into a Dantesque inferno of state failure, despite the 1000% increase in funding to El Sistema. Music has manifestly NOT saved Venezuela or brought about social change and it never will – which is not an argument against the public funding of music, but against the outrageous claims to social enhancement of Abreu and Dudamel in order to continuously justify being in bed with a dictatorship – and the more outrageous the number he claims to be involved in music the more he proves the point! Does he not see the inconvenient statistical relationship between the number of musicians claimed to be in El Sistema and the exponential decrease in quality of life? Music is indeed a most vital and precious gift to us all, but it will only bring about positive change in Venezuela when it is used as a tool of protest, and when all Venezuelan musicians rise up and refuse to extol and legitimize their dictators before the outside world.

  • Milka says:


    • Holger H. says:

      It’s always a humorous irony and demonstration of a narcissistic lack of modesty, to hear such self-indulgent words from naive armchair moralists, who by pure chance were born into free western societies, and never had to arrange their daily lives, feed a family and protect their loved ones in a totalitarian system.

  • william osborne says:

    By not denouncing the Venezuelan government, Dudamel is actually being very political. Hence all the teeth gnashing here by Slippedisc’s Fox News crowd.

    • Sam McElroy says:

      Of course, William, it logically follows that if one is opposed to an off-the-grid so-called “left”, corrupt, incompetent, abusive dictatorship, and artisists who glorify it because they profit handsomely from it, that one must, by extension belong to the wing nut gang from the tea party! It couldn’t just be that we might belong to the social democratic center left of reasonableness, fairness, transparency and decency. It couldn’t possibly be that we are great admirers of Scandinavian, humanist societies that practice what they preach and deliver on their promise, as opposed to despotic dictators who shout and scream their empty revolutionary credo all day on stolen tv stations and line their own pockets while bankrupting the country and flying their private jets to spend their stolen state assets in Miami, with their band of merry musicians trumpeting the vacuous message of peace, love and unity. No, in the world of Wiliam Osbourne, if you are pro human rights, transparency, decency, security, democracy, rule of law, separation of powers and all the other elements of a first-world, functioning society, you belong de facto to an imperialist, fascist, racist, right-wing, capitalist conspiracy to rule the world… For a smart man, William, you seem incapable of entertaining two ideas at the same time: that to oppose the abject and manifest failure of the revolutionary left is not to denounce the ethics of fairness and inclusion. I’m only interested in results, not bombast and empty rhetoric.

      As for the results, the “facts” supplied by Holger above, please bare in mind that the Venezuelan government dictates the narrative and issues whatever statistics it pleases. The few independent watchdogs in Venezuela have been shut down, or operate in a climate of such extreme deception that it is impossible to measure the real extent of either progress or disintegration. Only the Venzuelan people can attest to what life is like in Venezuela today, after 17 years of Chavismo, and I struggle to find any who hold it up as a model of success. Most will tell you about the hours they stand in line to buy whatever happens to be on the shelves that day; that inflation is so rampant it is unmeasurable, lying anywhere between 68% and several hundred percent, depending on which economist you listen to; that 25,000 citizens are being murdered every year in a climate of extreme criminality and lawlessness; that opposition politicians are imprisoned and sentenced to absurd jail terms in closed-door trials; that the very people running the country are in fact running a narco-kleptocracy, considered to be among the world’s most corrupt by Transparency International? Where do I end?

      My hope is that Venezuelans themselves will provide the testimony. I’m just married to one, and have gone through the process of exiling family members who have been threatened at gunpoint and endured mock executions, whose children were developing serious anxiety at the prospect of even leaving the house, such was the extent of the threat to life on a daily basis. But what do I know of facts?

      To any readers in Los Angeles, please find a little Venezuelan cafe in Pasadena called Cafe Amara. You will be served coffee and churros by two Venezuelan exiles. When you sit and hear their story, you will realize you were served by an orthopedic surgeon and a chemical engineer, who fled the country after the last of many kidnappings, and after Alex’s young assistant was shot seven times while taking her saving from the bank so she could buy her mother a mattress.

      Go ask Alex and Amara the facts. Or any other exile. Or any of the families of the 25,000 annual murder victims. After all, this a human crisis, not a statistical tug-of-war…

      • Holger H. says:

        You have to let go of the naive idea, that the concept intended to explain a complex world to small children, the simplifying duality of evil vs good, that that bears any truth as far as the real complex world is concerned.
        There are no good or bad guys in this conflict.

      • william osborne says:

        Those interested in the “social democratic center left of reasonableness, fairness, transparency and decency” would not single out Venezuela but also look at the larger picture US abuses in Latin America which include overthrowing democratically elected governments, severe economic exploitation, immoral embargoes, death squads, and mass murder. Sadly, this history strongly colors the US view of the Chavistas. Widen your perspectives and you’ll improve your arguments.

        • Carmen-Helena Tellez says:

          The truth is in the results. You can argue anything you will, but the results cannot be hidden. If you want to be of the left, be of the left and prove it by social advancement and well-being for all. In the Chavez regime they can label themselves whatever they want, but corruption and murder persist like the the time of the worst right-wing dictators. Those who deny it are being paid by the Chavez regime or are blind by choice.

        • Sam McElroy says:

          No, no, no! You didn’t, William! You just sank to the bottom of 5th grade logic class, and with such a thud.

          The “not as bad as” argument, also known as the fallacy of relative privation, is – as anyone who attended school ought to know – a form of the moral equivalence fallacy that takes note of the existence of things that are worse than what is actually under discussion.

          The fallacy of relative privation is popular with people who know perfectly well they’re backing a bad egg, but they feel compelled to attempt to justify it, rather than changing their mind in the face of compelling evidence, and do so by pointing to other comparable or arguably worse actions.

          The point is that we are talking about Venezuela.

          Not the US. Not Russia. Not ISIS. Not the Black Death. Not the boil on my dog’s bottom. This thread is about a conductor who denies he is political, despite always showing up to play for his dictator paymasters dressed in their branded garb.

          It is NOT a broad discussion about the history of US interference in South America, though you constantly turn it into one so as to avoid the current tragedy in question. If anything, it concerns itself with the one historical period – the last 17 years – during which the Venezuela government has enjoyed – even boasted about – maximum autonomy (except from Cuban influence, of course) and unimaginably bountiful resources, yet managed to destroy the nation in spectacular fashion! So spectacular, in fact, that one can only conclude the failure was engineered, as per the Marxist-Leninist-Castrist modus.

          Why are you so happy to call out the murderous vices of others – rightly so, in another thread – but not the vices of the current, abusive, incompetent, narco-kleptocratic regime for whom Dudamel is an omnipresent and willing puppet? Does murder by another ideology smell more sweet?

          And I am the one who needs to improve my arguments?

  • Milka says:

    Only opportunists as I wrote earlier .