Report: One third of Simon Bolivar orchestra has gone into exile

Report: One third of Simon Bolivar orchestra has gone into exile


norman lebrecht

December 17, 2017

The Spanish newspaper El Pais reports that 40 members of El Sistema’s flgaship orchestra have fled the country. Its conductor Gustavo Dudamel no longer dares to return to Venezuela.

Report here.



  • Geoff Baker says:

    The original article is rather over-dramatic, in the sense that these musicians are not in “exile” – they are and always have been favoured sons (and a handful of daughters) of the Bolivarian Revolution. They are choosing to leave the country now that their lucrative foreign tours have dried up, their very high salaries have been eroded by hyper-inflation, and the country is deteriorating around them. That may seem like a reasonable choice, or it may not – depending on how seriously one takes El Sistema’s slogan of Tocar y Luchar (to play and to fight) – but they are not banished or barred from Venezuela.

    Also, this is neither a new nor a sudden development (I have been mentioning this on my blog for over a year – see e.g. – written 14 months ago). It is a steady, long-term trickle, not a fleeing.

    The article is also full of misrepresentations about the relationship between El Sistema, Dudamel, and the government. In other words, a typical media article on El Sistema. Spanish speakers can see that the claim that “Maduro no ha sido capaz de ver, entender y mucho menos escuchar sus beneficios” is flatly contradicted by this video:

  • Thomasina says:

    Is the orchestra still active? I recently searched for their web site to confirm the name of a musician but I could not find it. I’m a pretty sure that I have seen before…

  • Sue says:

    Geoff Baker’s comments are yet more testimony, if any were needed, of the fake news phenomenon in action. Fortunately you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

    • J. says:

      Oh, yes you can. I’m from a neighbour country, I can guarantee that I’m fully aware of the situation. The European and US left romanticize Venezuela. All I can say is: let’s trade, you guys come to South America and South Americans go to US and Europe. Right now. Deal?

      • MacroV says:

        The “US left” romanticizes Venezuela? What nonsense. Where do you get this stuff? I’ve never read a kind word about Venezuela/Chavez/Maduro from any US source, left or right. Diplomatically, both the Bush and Obama Administration were very hard on Venezuela, and we haven’t had an ambassador there since 2010.

  • Mr. Schwa says:

    Has Bolivar himself commented on this lamentable turn of events?

    • John Doe says:

      He’s been too busy worrying about his other franchises to notice (the Simon Bolivar Youth Choir, the Fundación Musical Simon Bolivar, the Simon Bolivar University, the Sala Simón Bolívar of the Centro Nacional de Acción Social por la Música, etc).

  • Sam McElroy says:

    We met and worked with some El Sistema musicians in Chile this summer (on an ARTE TV project with the YOA Orchestra of the Americas, which had received record numbers of applicants from Venezuela this year).

    During a rehearsal break, my wife arranged a meeting to hear their personal stories. One of them, from a formerly working middle-class family, told her (with flowing tears and trembling hands – I was there in the room) about the midnight ritual of chasing the garbage trucks in the hope of finding some scraps of food. Her emaciated appearance alone was enough to make me believe her. Another told stories of kidnapped and murdered relatives. And so on.

    A few days later, we flew home and went straight from the airport to the ESMUC (conservatory) in Barcelona, where, thanks to the empathetic disposition of the dean, my wife was able to persuasively advocate for 3 of them to be given places, with immediate effect. Within days, thanks to sympathetic Venezuelan donors connected to the YOA Orchestra of the Americas, she had raised enough money to have them make the trip and cover all living expenses for the first year.

    On their arrival in Barcelona a few weeks ago, they were met at the airport by the school principal himself. I bumped into one of them a few days ago in the corridors of the conservatory, and she told me that she “felt her life had been saved”, such was the imminent threat to it – from violence, starvation, medicine shortages and a host of other threats.

    Now, my wife’s inbox is inundated with requests for the same. People literally begging her to be saved from imminent threat to life, hoping to find a legitimate way to join the estimated three million Venezuelan refugees who have left in recent times (a figure quoted to me last night by the head of the Foro Penal Venezuela).

    The scale of this national tragedy is unimaginable to those of us who have never been exposed to such deprivation, and I can only hope that this comment finds its way to people in positions of power – within orchestras or conservatories around the world – with the same empathetic instincts as the dean of ESMUC. Action is needed. Now!