Just in: Sistema rebel wins Latin Grammy

Just in: Sistema rebel wins Latin Grammy


norman lebrecht

November 20, 2015

And the winner of the classical section of the Latin Grammys last night is…

grammy gabriela montero

Gabriela Montero, pianist and composer, has been the most outspoken and unflinching critic of the sanguinary Venezuelan regime and its El Sistema musical offshoot.

Que viva, Gaby!

gabriela montero colours

UPDATE: The prize was shared with Franz and Debora Halasz for their Bis album, alma brasileira.


  • Alvaro says:

    I called it and I was right again: the stunt to remain relevant WORKED. Excellent use of PR and viralization to achieve an accolade that will 1) raise fees for artist and manager, and 2) ensure more appearances 3) gain Buzz and even perhaps warrant a return to a decent label. She fell trough the cracks of the EMI buyout, but now Latin Grammy on hand?

    Thats how you continue a career ladies and gents. Call it cynical, but the tangible results will be the ones described above. Does she REALLY mean it about the whole sistema et al? Nobody can say for certain. What is for certain is that she will surely bank on it. Great business.

    Im gonna go write a concerto about the evils of industry, and the corruption that ends up with chemical spillage on brazilian rivers-Latin Grammy’s here I come!!!

    • enemigopublico says:

      You’re nuts.

      • Alvaro says:

        Keep selling the story of the “love for country” and rebellious pianist – its working. One should write a case study for it or something.

        1) The current government has been in Venezuela since 1999, SIXTEEN YEARS. Only in the past 3 has she made it the centerpoint of her PR to openly criticize the regime, write letters to Dudamel, and be the ‘Venezuelan Oposition Pianist’ – WHY?

        2) EMI dropped some artists, Gabriela included, in 2011 with the buyout – timing perfectly with her increasing zeal for country and justice. Interesting coincidence.

        3) At the beginning of her career she had adopted a positioning as the ‘piano improviser” and protege of Argerich, NOT as the anti-venezuelan-government pianist. This is well documented. You might throw ‘but she said X or Y back in the day’ but still, it was not the MAIN MESSAGE as it is today (Just read Norman’s title of this entry: “Sistema Rebel” – That was hardly the message in 2005)

        Why not write a concerto for your country when Chavez was still alive and saying the craziest stuff he was saying (Maduro is hardly as controversial)? Does it take 16 years to all of a sudden have this patriotic drive?

        Keep selling the story, by all means, and I dont doubt that Montero has true concerns for her country. As a Latin American I worry about the people of Venezuela as well.

        I simply dont think thats the whole story…..in fact, its very clever. All the more power to her. Impressive.

        • Sam McElroy says:

          Fact check:

          1. She began publicly protesting with Solatino (EMI, 2010), as the results of Chavismo began to take ahold of Venezuelan society. The open letter to Dudamel followed the death of student protesters last February, and was the final-straw response to a specific and brutal moment in time.

          2. Her multi-album contract expired with EMI, she was not “dropped”. This latest album was based on a business model that assumed an established fan base worldwide, hence the irrelevance of the label “size”. The only relevant size is the impact of its central message.

          3. EMI endorsed Gabriela’s anti-government stance, even allowing the color red to be removed from its logo for the Solatino album, at Gabriela’s insistence, replacing it with black. A personal statement as to why was included in the booklet.

          As I wrote in my lengthier comment below, your time-consuming insistence on discrediting her – an Honorary Consul of Amnesty International, no less – is suspiciously self-interested. Why don’t you publish your full name, and job description, as I do? If you cared a damn for the people of Venezuela, you would applaud her gargantuan efforts to protect them from this vile autocracy, and to call it what it is. Sounds like Venezuelan oil largesse plays a role in your professional survival. Feel free to relieve me of that suspicion. But do your homework more thoroughly before you make a fool out of yourself again….

          • Sam McElroy says:

            Other important fact check:

            She did write Ex Patria when Chavez was alive! In fact, she made a short documentary about it in 2012 and called Chavez out on his arbitrary detention-without-trial of four political prisoners. All four were released. One of them has publicly acknowledged the causal connection between the film and his subsequent release, and even sent a video message to the World Economic Forum thanking Gabriela for her action.

            Get your facts right. You are way out of your depth…

          • Alvaro says:

            Thanks for the facts:

            1) 2010 was ELEVEN (E-L-E-V-E-N) years after Chavez got in power in 1999. ELEVEN. A DECADE + 1. It was literally a different century, a different MILLENIUM.

            I think its pretty clear.

            2) Right, the contract expired. But I guess it is completely inconceivable that if EMI is being incredibly successful with an artist they can, I don’t know, OFFER ANOTHER CONTRACT! Its not an option.

            I am not discrediting anybody, just being objective and what I think resulted in the actions. It is your job to put forth the “Hollywood Movie” of the fighter against the system.

            The readers will form their own opinions.

    • burton says:

      Alvaro – Eagerly awaiting the premiere of your promised concerto. If only it harnesses the powers of intellect, perception and compassion at your command the world is surely in for an enormous treat. Well done sir!

  • Alvaro says:

    Calling out Norman as Montero TIED her Grammy (yes TIED) with classical Guitarist Franz Halasz , head of the classical guitar program of the Munich Conservatory in Germany. No mention here.

    Objectivity, 100%

    • V.Lind says:

      Not just a matter of objectivity. A matter of fact. They are in decreasing supply around here.

      But when it’s the teacher’s pet…

  • Marcato Sempre says:

    Leave her politics aside and listen to her playing: Boring.

  • Sam McElroy says:

    The comments above from Alvaro, and the customarily stabbing little backing vocals of V.Lind, are of a bitterness and nastiness that is impossible to fathom. Where do you people come from? Is simple applause not possible?

    So, as executive producer of the recording, let me set you straight.

    This album is, first and foremost, a celebration and resurrection of the bygone era of the artist as virtuoso, composer and improviser. It was conceived to encourage a conversation about creativity by unifying all three skills on one recording, with Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.2, Montero “Ex Patria”, and Montero 3 improvisations (pieces composed, played and recorded spontaneously and in one take). If I am not mistaken, it is the first classical album to do so. This achievement seems to pass far beneath the radar of bitter conspiracy!

    “Ex Patria” – far from being a masochistically labour-intensive move to “stay relevant” – is an extraordinary act of personal, creative dissent, a musical portrait of a country in the throws of such daily violence that it sees more murders in any given weekend than Paris saw last Friday night. Where others are happy to remain silent and take money from the government that has overseen that descent into chaos, Gabriela Montero has composed and recorded a work to resist it. From her own pocket.

    The pairing with Rachmaninov was designed to connect not only the theme of the virtuoso-composer, but to empathize with an artist who was, like Gabriela, exiled from his homeland by the disaster wrought upon it by authoritarian, vile politicians.

    Finally, in an age in which labels struggle to recover the costs of orchestral recordings, Gabriela found an imaginative and cost-neutral way to collaborate with a wonderful, non-political, non state-sponsored, pan-American orchestra, by offering a perfect quid pro quo: she played a three week tour pro bono in Central America with the YOA Orchestra of the Americas and Carlos Miguel Prieto in exchange for the right to record the chosen repertoire and retain ownership of the master, with Jonathan Allen from Abbey Road as engineer and producer.

    The resulting live recording was then licensed by Gabriela for distribution to the boutique label, Orchid Classics, who, like iTunes, understood the dignity of its message. As with most classical recordings these days, the artist and label are hardly set to “bank on it”, as the accusation goes above (and as though it is a crime to earn money from creative projects these days).

    Not one lobbyist or Grammy voter was approached to garner the nomination, which came as a surprise to Gabriela, and not one cent was spent influencing the outcome of the vote. In fact, Gabriela was quietly going about the business of playing Mozart No.14 with the Manchester Camerata last night as the announcement was made in Las Vegas. No fanfare for her, just the satisfaction of a job well done and a clear conscience. She immediately dedicated the win to the people of Venezuela (Ex Patria was composed in memoriam, and dedicated to the 19,336 victims of homicide in 2011, the year of its composition) from whose brutal, human rights-abusing, election-rigging, narcokleptocracy of a regime she refuses to accept a single dime.

    So, given the integrity of its dual message of creativity and creative dissent, the considerable industry poured into it creatively and entrepreneurially, shouldn’t a simple congratulation be in order, rather than the bitter, cynical gnashing of surely worn-out teeth by bitter men?

    On a footnote, you might be even more bitter – I mean happy – to know that her first piano concerto will receive its world premiere at the Gewandhaus in March, played by Gabriela herself. I am generously giving you four months lead time to create another conspiracy theory in your foggy basement of resentment. This commission came long before this Latin Grammy, and was awarded on musical merit alone by people with ears enough to know what caliber of musician they are dealing with. Maybe, Alvaro, if you took time away from bitching relentlessly on the comment section of a blog, and did a little listening (maybe start with the album?) and research instead, you too may begin to understand what you are dealing with here. Or do you work for a party interested only in discrediting Gabriela Montero? It is hard to understand the vitriol and detailed attention to Gabriela’s career otherwise. Only a self-interested adversary can care so much.

    • Alvaro says:

      First off: Congratulations. The story is PERFECT! and I always applaud a job well done.

      I agree with you in many, many respects, but doing my research I find two interesting facts:

      – The regime in Venezuela has been there since 1999. Its been SIXTEEN YEARS. Everybody in this blog and in the community knows that Gabriela rose to fame for her impressive improvisational skills and as a protege of Argerich, not complaining about Chavez while he was still alive. Why only make it so prominent now? Were there no problems in Venezuela before 2011?

      – If you read above, the ‘bank on it’ will come from a higher call to fame for having won a Grammy in the form of concerts and fees, not revenue from the CD itself. We both agree that CD’s, more than a revenue source, are marketing material and many barely cover production costs – even within the big labels.

      This was a genius move, and I applaud it – but don’t sell me that good feelings (which I do not doubt are there) is ALL there is behind this production. I don’t buy it.

      Last: I assign no negative connotations to trying to stay relevant (and trying to further one’s career) as a musician with creative projects like this one, while also conveying a valid social message. All the more power to you. THIS is creativity. But if one says ‘hey, yes she cares about Venezuela but come on, we need to get more concerts and raise fees and need publicity” then the ‘Hollywood story’ narrated above is not as sweet for the grandmas who will buy the CD and attend the concerts.
      People like a good story. This is a good story.

      It is hard enough for the aspiring musicians to discern from the Cliche’s the magazines tell you from reality. Its the same over and over again in the arts: “how do you get to Carnegie hall? Practice my son, practice”.

      Yeah, you need to practice, but these days – more than ever – more than practicing you need just the first two letters.

      PR MY SON!! PR!!!!

      Same goes for a Latin Grammy. Again, the story is really fantastic. Congratulations 😉

      • Sam McElroy says:

        You are wading in nonsense, gurgling, foaming at the mouth in your own presumptions.

        Gabriela is selling nothing. She is, in Havel’s words, “speaking truth to conscience.” It that impossible to accept? Is it beyond your imagination to accept that there are good people in the world, who fight dictatorships rather than enabling them? Ask yourself which Venezuelan musicians have permanent PR teams in their employ? Gabriela has none. Please do not forget one glaring fact: if Gabriela Montero wanted to profit from the situation in Venezuela to further her own career aims, she would do so by embracing the regime, not by opposing it. She has clearly, manifestly opted for the road less travelled. She is a fighter, not a parasite, and only an atrocious analyst or self-interested opponent would suggest otherwise.

        • burton says:

          Sam – Do not permit yourself to be further goaded by these characters and their transparent attempts at character assassination. You make a compelling case but in so doing you manage to ascribe far more weight to their drivel than is warranted. By all means dismiss their posts for what they are…then move on. Here’s hoping that sanity may prevail!

          • Sam McElroy says:

            Thanks, Burton. You are right. It is just so frustrating to read this drivel, and I feel like I have to stop it in its tracks from becoming truth. Thanks for your support… Over and out! Best, Sam.

    • V.Lind says:

      My comment to Alvaro was a (rare) agreement that the report ont he Latin Grammys was not quite accurate, and the remark related to the blogger, not the (co-) winner. That the result of the Latin Grammys (classical) section was misreported I attributed to the blogger’s continuing championship of Ms. Montero. Again, the comment was on him, not on your wife.

  • Gabriela Montero says:

    I tend not to comment in forums, but I am so deeply shocked by Alvaro’s cynicism, that I absolutely must this time.

    To manipulate my genuine concern for my country into what you unabashedly declare to be a brilliant career move, is beyond disgusting. Your intention to dirty my efforts that the world know the horror, the violence, the corruption that my people have been suffering the last 17 years speaks volumes of who you are. Have you no heart? It is now abundantly known that every single week, over 100 people are murdered in Caracas ALONE. Some weeks it’s 120, some weeks 180. 25,000 victims every year! The numbers are devastating. I have lost count of how many family members of victims I have encountered in my travels, all of them broken, trying to make sense of not only having lost a loved one, but also having lost their country. Their home.

    My own brother was kidnapped at gun point, not once but twice. When left in a solitary area and told to face the wall, he thought he would be executed. Tens of thousands of Venezuelans have not been as lucky as him to survive such an ordeal. Their families and friends have been left to grieve in a country which is now lawless. Left with the frustration and anger that no one will ever be held accountable. I have become the artist that carries the message of all those people to the world, so that they will not be ignored and their pain will serve to awaken a world that still believes there is a true democracy in my country. I dare anyone who STILL defends the kleptocracy/narcostate that is Venezuela to live there for a few weeks. I dare you. See for yourselves, and let’s hope you survive.

    I began this fight in 2010, as my husband Sam states. I didn’t have to do this. It brings no benefits or pluses to my career. If my goal was to gain fame and fortune, I would ingratiate myself with the regime, with the Sistema and with Dudamel. I would foster those relationships and enjoy a fantastically funded and well staffed support network with agents, publicists and the best that money can be. Instead, I am their “enemy” and that has its very visible consequences.

    Say what you want, Alvaro. Twist my efforts to express and divulge the pain of all those people into a vile theory of self-gain and self-promotion. Use your words to create doubt, to misrepresent, to insult me. Your bitterness will not disuade me or affect me. But know that by doing so, you are spitting in the face of all of those victims who deserve to be heard, even if it is through me or the others that dare speak out. If you need to lash out at someone, lash out at the perpetrators of this mess not at those of us who are trying, attempting, to make a difference. Think about it.