The shocking silence of El Sistema

The shocking silence of El Sistema


norman lebrecht

August 22, 2017

The Venezuelan government has turned against the country’s most successful musician, refusing to allow its youth orchestra to tour the United States with Gustavo Dudamel.

President Maduro has claimed that Dudamel owes everything to El Sistema, which his government owns, and will be punished for his dissent.

There has been no response to the Dudamel sanctions from the Sistema founder, Jose Antonio Abreu.

Or from Sistema graduates with international careers in Europe and the US.

Or, shamefully, from Sistema’s adulators and partners in other countries.

Not a word from Julian Lloyd Webber, for instance, the organisation’s chief promoter in the UK.

Or from Sir Simon Rattle and Daniel Barenboim, Dudamel’s good friends. (Let alone Jeremy Corbyn, the Maduro regime’s biggest supporter).

Or from Sistema’s apologists in the US, Tricia Tunstall and Eric Booth.

This is not a time for silence.

Musicians who believe in justice and human rights need to make their voices heard.



  • Probably you shall wait in vain.
    No supporter of the madoro government will speak up simply because the situation in venezuela is at a dead end. Exit choices are very limited and the situation might get very ugly.
    Besides, it has been fashinable for many decades to give support to cuba and noe venezuela. Two regimes that have failed miserably, apart from exporting their revolution. Without a single success story.
    Who will ever adnit on being wrong in this issue?

    • Hernan says:

      You are sadly misinformed. The media distorts Venezuelan reality. Maduro has support among Venezuelans. The oligarchy has NOTHING to offer the people of Venezuela, and everybody knows this.

  • Tom Moore says:

    It is difficult to believe that anyone could still be supporting the dictatorship of Maduro. The silence of musicians regarding the suffering of Venezuela and Venezuelans is indeed shocking.

    • Hernan says:

      “dictatorship” really? President Maduro was elected by the people of Venezuela. The people reject the rule by the oligarchs, and they know that the US wants to steal Venezuela’s vast oil reserves.

  • Sam says:

    There is a difference in What a musician and politician can do to change the world . Gustavo Dudamel does owe his success in part to El Sistema, but he also owes his success to himself for being the kind of humanist that thousands respect listen to and look to for inspiration. He himself kept silent for many years choosing to express himself through music as a medium. And only recently has he started using words and his voice verbally to speak out , as he was so angered and in so spoke as to how to help his country. Madero was not running the country during his time as a student in Venezuela. And Gustavo’s love appreciation and greatfullness towards his country and past is apparent in his face with the pride he speaks of his El Sistema soil. I personally worked with the maestro for many years. I have seen him struggle. I have seen him become the target of political propaganda from both sides. I believe this has had a profound impact in his emotional life, and was the reason he started speaking up. I was also glad to see that he was criticized by the powers that be. I think it is a good reminder and frees him from being responsible
    From the present political situation. It helps clarify to the people that music is not politics. It is a truer expression of the human condition. A place to escape time and the every day dealings. I hope Dudamel is able to pour himself into the music now with the understanding that time and the politicians will come and go, but Mahler, Beethoven, Bruchner, Mozart, Scriabin….. will live forever.

    • Ungeheuer says:

      ….”Mahler, Beethoven, Bruchner [sic], Mozart, Scriabin….. will live forever.”

      Yes and if only the Dude could conduct their music to an acceptable level at the very least. If only. I understand El Sistema is in need of teachers.

    • Hernan says:

      El Sistema is a government sponsored and paid for organization, similar to the US Marine Band. El Sistema has prospered and grown under the administration of President Maduro. The violence comes from the US supported and financed “opposition”. Many police who must maintain social peace have been killed by these mobs. The US/CIA plan for Maduro is the same plan that they had for Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi. What what Maduro has in common with those leaders is its vast amounts of oil. Venezuela has more oil than either Iraq or Libya.
      It is a shame that Dudamel has sided with those who want to steal Venezuela’s oil. Make no mistake its about the oil.

  • Caonex Peguero-Camilo says:

    Delicate situation. Little can be accomplish by public statements. More harm could be done. The tour was in the U. S. which is sup·pos·ed·ly Maduro’s archemy. Prudent stances might be wise right now. Their silence, as it was Gustavo’s, is not necessarily an edorsement. Besides being a dictator, Maduro is not bright or learned. His reactions are disparate. His orders proceed from Cuba. El Sistema has survived many crises. Let’s hope for the better. Dudamel made it, but El Sistema is in constant danger as is the Venezuelan population.

  • Una Barry says:

    They just punish themselves in the end, not the orchestra – sad as it’s turned out.

    • Anon says:

      There were real chances now, with the crisis at home, many of them would defect while in the US, at least the older ones. So the cancellation might primarily about that and the Dude just the scapegoat.

  • Julian Lloyd Webber says:

    Here is more than a word:

    I think it is appalling. Maduro discredits anything he goes near.

  • Steve P says:

    Sad for the kids in the program. It seemed to be a genuine benefit to them.

  • M2N2K says:

    Yes, let’s continue accusing and criticizing (better yet, also labeling and insulting) those who are silent, those who say too much, those who say too little, those who don’t say it often enough or loud enough, those who say something we disagree with (often a combination of two or more accusations, depending on critics’ points of view) – all of that while looking at our computer screens and feeling so morally and intellectually superior…
    Dealing with an oppressive murderous government is extremely difficult for anyone who is not a professional politician, and being successful and well-known in one’s non-political field does not make it much easier.

  • Anon says:

    “There has been no response”
    Sigh… if all you know is a hammer, everything look like a nail.
    No, in totalitarian regimes, responses and appeals are not done through the public press but behind closed doors. So silly, this clueless western, raised in cotton balls, armchair activists and bathroom dissidents.

  • V. Lind says:

    Not a peep out of the McElroys since Dudamel spoke out — they were quick enough with their criticism before he did so. Now he has suffered actual consequences — I am not aware that Maduro has ever commented on Mrs. Mc., despite her vocal and open opposition (also from outside the country) to the regime.

    No commentary from Christian Vasquez or other Venezuelan artists operating abroad — as is their right. The McElroys were very selective in their criticism of other artists.

    God bless Venezuela.

    • Steve P says:

      God help Venezuela. To go from burgeoning to bust…what a nightmare.

    • Sam McElroy says:

      “Not a peep out of the McElroys since Dudamel spoke out…”

      Not a peep HERE, you mean. She has been on the BBC Today program, and I refer you to an excellent essay on equivocation entitled “One-Sided Tyranny” posted by Gabriela a few days ago on her FB page. Please find it. She could not be clearer (as she has been since 2004). If she had Gustavo’s immediate access to the NYT it would have been published there. Apologies.

      For your information, and only because you question her apparent inactivity, Gabriela has also been spending the last few weeks – between work trips to Chile, Switzerland and France -busying herself with rescuing El Sistema musicians from the critical situation in Venezuela — securing conservatory places, a year’s worth of funding, and flights to Europe for a number of musicians. She has also been working with the Human Rights Foundation and Wuilly Arteaga’s team to help secure his release (work which was mysteriously attributed by Mark Swed in the LA Times to Gustavo, despite Arteaga’s team’s insistence to Gabriela in private that this is “Falso”).

      Is that peep enough?

      • V. Lind says:

        Thank you. I never questioned, or doubted, your wife’s busy-ness in her career. And I am not surprised that she has remained active in her passionate denunciations of the Maduro government and the damage it is wreaking on her native land. My comment was meant to be restricted to the fact that she — and probably you, I do not recall — were rather vocal in your criticism of Gustavo Dudamel when he was not speaking out on Venezuelan affairs. And that you both did so here.

        Your post implies that he is still in the doghouse chez toi despite having done what you appeared to be demanding, taking a public stance. So I wonder if your collective antipathy to him goes beyond his attempt to stay out of open political commentary.

        I personally think such things are an individual choice, and that Gustavo — and any other important Venezuelans from whom we have not heard — was as entitled to desist from commentary as your wife is to have been so vocal. (It is irrelevant that I might prefer one stance to the other — such is the nature of free choice). I just thought that when you had both been so critical of him for not doing what you preferred, you were silent in the same precincts when he did. As you have not attributed the claim that the release of Mr. Arteaga was down to Gustavo was made by the man himself, nor denied that he may have quietly tried to achieve it without the success to which your wife may lay claim, there seems to be something personal here.

        • Sam McElroy says:

          VLind… Again, she has NOT been silent. Please read her FB essay on equivocation, as referred to in my comment above. It explains exactly why his comments are both too late and too equivocal. Like Trump, he still refuses to take sides against the manifestly vile . Please, read the essay, it is very clear. I could cut and paste it here, but I feel it would be rude to occupy so much space.

          As for Arteaga’s case, Gabriela does not make any claims at all, other than that she did what she could to help, and during the course of her interactions with the team was told that GD had been absent from any mediation. That’s all. Over and out.

          • V. Lind says:

            I did read it. have not read his, so have little comment to make beyond that she makes a good and clear case for her views, as you say. And I suspect that, even if his profile is higher with the NY Times than hers, her name would not be unknown there and, had she submitted this after his was published as a counter-argument, it would have been welcomed (after a few spelling corrections and possibly a light edit) and might indeed have stimulated further discussion on Venezuela.


    I hope the musicians can continue to play unmolested by politics and tyranny. Vain hope, I know.

  • herrera says:

    What the West fails to understand, because it is so besotted with the idea of Little Brown Children playing Dead White Male music (tongue firmly planted in cheek here, for those who don’t get tongue-in-cheek), is that El Sistema was always a political propaganda machine for the Venezuelan regime, no different from the Russian Army Choir which does an absolutely fabulous cover of Adele’s Skyfall, but is still the same Russian Army that invades Ukraine and Georgia.

    So good on Sir Simon and Barenboim for seeing right through The System for what it is and remaining silent because why should their friend continue to prop up Maduro’s propaganda piece?

  • Patrick Gillot says:

    The big communist lie collapsing in Venezuela as it collapsed everywhere and the useful idiots are nowhere to be seen. shame on Dudamel: he did not withdraw his support for a a clearly dictatorial regime, the regime withdrew its support…..End of the cool story. On his sole merit, Dudamel may be unemployed within 5 years.

    • Anon says:

      Chavez or Maduro never were communists and did never have communist ideals.
      They promote state socialism and egalitarianism. That’s not communism.
      Also ‘clearly dictatorial’ is different. There still was some residual democratic structure and elections.
      For ‘clearly dictatorial’ you can take as example Saudi Arabia, a monarchy. The US’ best friends.

      • Patrick Gillot says:

        I love the ” there still WAS….”

      • Patrick Gillot says:

        I love the ” there still WAS….” As well as “did never have…” Theb result of every communist system or Crypto Communist like in Venezuela is invariably the same. time for the Exit say Duderino and Anon.

        • Anon says:

          If you are against something, you should at least know what it is. Otherwise you come across as a bit challenged in the brain department. 😉

    • Anon says:

      It’s never about dictatorship vs democracy. It’s always about free access of global capital vs protection from global capital exploitation. Q.e.d.

      • Burton says:

        There he goes again. What’s so strange is that ANON stakes out a classical music blog like Slipped Disc to strike a superior pose and churn out neo-Marxist twaddle. Sadly, ANON occasionally succeeds in antagonizing one or another poster Folks, it’s trolling in the purest sense and mostly laughable in its vacuousness. His tiresome message is of minimal interest and even less relevance to the discussions on this board.

        • Anon says:

          What I said is nothing Marxist. It’s a simple observation of reality.
          Now if observation of reality is Marxist to you, then I’m not surprised. Brainwashing does that to people.
          Also, there might be ore than one Anon here. I’m certain about it.

          • Mark Henriksen says:

            Then grow a pair and sign your name.

          • Anon says:

            No thanks, I hate totalitarianism, old or new. Like google and Facebook and their brothers at the NSA. Sick ‘big brother’ sniffers keep for all eternity what everyone of us ever voices. So no real name for you, sorry.

  • Mihail Ghiga says:

    Public education belongs to a country and not to a regime. The days of the regime are numbered aniway, and Cuba will follow. Those regimes are not sustainable, those who more or less sustain them (Russia and China) have limited ressources to do it, and those who want them gone (USA) have a lot of leverage to get rid of them, probably they just wait for a way to do it without harming too much the population or they are just negociating with parts of the regime who themselves want to get rid of Maduro.

  • Hernan says:

    If Dudamel has any dignity, he should resign from El Sistema, and join the traitors who side with Venezuela’s enemies.
    El Sistema is a government sponsored and paid for organization, similar to the US Marine Band. El Sistema has prospered and grown under the administration of President Maduro. The violence comes from the US supported and financed “opposition”. Many police who must maintain social peace have been killed by these mobs. The US/CIA plan for Maduro is the same plan that they had for Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi. What what Maduro has in common with those leaders is its vast amounts of oil. Venezuela has more oil than either Iraq or Libya.
    It is a shame that Dudamel has sided with those who want t