The founder of El Sistema, who died yesterday, studied at an American university and was reported by his official biography to be fluent in English, but when I tried to talk to him he insisted on an interpreter.
He seemed reluctant to say anything meaningful. Even his platitudes had been watered down to nothingness. After a while, I gave up and we shook hands.
His reticence, I was told by some in his circle, was rooted in a fear of his country’s increasingly odious regime, which he continued to support, and in a paramount need to protect his educational creation, El Sistema.
The only person who really knew him was Gustavo Dudamel, who acknowledged José Antonio Abreu as a surrogate father and for many years did nothing without his approval. When I asked Gustavo to describe Abreu’s special qualities, he said something like ‘well, you have to know him….’
A mystery wrapped in an enigma.
Abreu with strongman Maduro