Dudamel: I’m rehearsing in Venezuela on Facetime

Dudamel: I’m rehearsing in Venezuela on Facetime


norman lebrecht

May 04, 2018

‘El Sistema is my life,’ he tells CNN’s Christiane Armanpour.

So to get around the regime’s block on him working with the youth orchestras he conducts rehearsals with them online.

He avoids criticising the situation or the regime.



  • Rgiarola says:

    Poor Venezuelan people, specially since many outside remains defending the political system and saying it is a democracy. Also due to the fact that their heroes were manufactured by a political propaganda and sponsored by their money.

    We blame any artist now-a-days, because an accusation of moral or sexual harassment. Nevertheless mostly close their eyes to killer supporters. Where is the equity of our judgment?

  • william osborne says:

    There’s an article in the magazine “The Nation” that cautions against simplistic and reductive views of the problems in Venezuela. It’s important, but difficult, to sort through all the propaganda that is in most of the the mainstream American press. Hence the American cultural world’s constant twisting and turning about Dudamel and his toying with…oh gad…socialism.

    Concerning the problems in Venezuela, the article notes: “…recent and repeated calls for military and foreign intervention—have also had a very damaging economic effect.

    “The US government has not only cheered, and funded, these anti-democratic actions. By absurdly declaring that Venezuela is an “unusual and extraordinary threat” to US national security and pressuring investors and bankers to steer clear of the Maduro administration, the White House has prevented Venezuela from obtaining much-needed foreign financing and investment.

    “There’s little evidence for the claim that “socialism killed Venezuela.

    “An honest account of the crisis must include both of these aspects: the government’s costly errors, and the destabilizing actions of the opposition and US government. To ignore one or the other is to misrepresent reality and perpetuate false all-or-nothing narratives that blame the crisis, in its entirety, on either “socialism” or the “Empire.” Such narratives may comfort those seeking affirmation for preconceived notions, but they will not aid those seeking to know why Venezuela is in crisis and how it might get out of it.”

    The whole article here and worth a read: https://www.thenation.com/article/why-is-venezuela-in-crisis/

    Forgive me if I do not get into the usual SD debates about this.

    • M2N2K says:

      There isn’t much to debate – all one has to do is just Consider The Source.

    • Rgiarola says:

      Good Osborne. That’s true about the mistakes in media covering concerning Venezuela. I’m living in South America for decades, I’ve got many Venezuelan friends living not just in Caracas capitol city, but even in small places country side such Calabouço. I don’t even read north hemisphere press about this matter. It is clear a temptative of turning the situation to something much better.
      Venezuela according to UN figures was a wealth country during the 90’s, due to oil exportation. Nothing changed since 2000, besides starvation and lack of simple things such toillet paper. Many Venezuelans are running away in daily basis to countries such Brazil, that receive an average of 50 thousand venezuelans per day. Brazil, a country that on the other hand had been accused of promote a coup d’etat, by the very same press that defends Venezuela dictator. A country that survived the biggest fraud of public funds in modern history, and put many old politicians behind bars.
      The big excuse of actual dictatorship system was always to find and external menace. Colombia specially, and as you mentioned USA among others. Venezuela did not have any commercial block such Cuba for decades (But not anymore). USA is the biggest purchaser of Venezuela oil.
      The truth is the economy of the country was terribly directed. Similar to metalinism praticed by Iberical countries in centuries XVI-XVII, Chavism lived of selling just one commodity. It is strongely burocratical and expensive to keep a business there. I can tell you by my own experience since a direct a japanese company in Latin America.
      I’m not talking about political wings, but about facts. China’s citizens aren’t in the same situation at all.

      • Greg Hlatky says:

        Always the same promises.
        Always the same catastrophes.
        Always the same excuses.
        Always the same scapegoats.

  • Caravaggio says:

    Adds new meaning to “phoning it”

  • Robert Holmén says:

    Just from a technical standpoint I don’t see how it’s possible.

    The latency in an intercontinental video connection would make musical interaction unlikely.

  • anon says:

    Conducting via skype.

    People do many things via skype. This is a new one for me.

  • V.Lind says:

    Not sure what technical apparatus they used, but Pinchas Zukerman has taught at the Manhattan School of Music for years by some video connection. And I very much doubt he is alone in this practice.

    • Robert Holmén says:

      I would hold that the task of critiquing a private student’s performance requires far less split-second immediacy and presence than conducting an ensemble.

      • Maurizio Ortolani says:

        Yes, of course. But broadband videoconference technology over high-performance networks has also been very effective for working with groups of musicians, for example, for orchestral readings over distance. Currently, studios at the National Arts Centre (Ottawa), Manhattan School of Music, Cleveland Institute of Music, New World Symphony (Miami), the Sibelius Academy (Helsinki), Central Conservatory (Beijing) can connect with less than a quarter of second latency, round-trip.

  • Maurizio Ortolani, National Arts Centre, Canada says:

    Maestro Zukerman has been teaching and conducting masterclasses from the National Arts Centre (Ottawa) and Manhattan School of Music using broadband videoconferencing technologies — initially over ISDN lines and eventually over Internet2 and the CANARIE network (Canada) — since the early 1990s. He has been a catalyst in adapting technologies used in tele-health and corporate boardrooms and pushing them to achieve the fidelity and low-latency that high level music mentorship requires. Maestro Dudamel has twice been a guest of Pinchas Zukerman in the National Arts Centre’s distance education studio.

  • Sam McElroy says:

    I wish apologists for the Venezuelan criminal regime – and I include the “two sides to the story” apologists like Osbourne above, as well as the complicitous Dudamel – could pack themselves into our kitchen right now.

    We have just picked up a young Venezuelan singer, Luis, from the airport this afternoon. For two years, he has been writing to us, begging to get him out of the hell of Venezuela. Finally, after seeing a video of him singing Mozart, Luis was invited by Placido Domingo to audition for his program in Valencia, and a crowdsourcing project was set up to get him from deep in the heart of rural Venezuela to Spain.

    A bright and articulate young man, Luis has just spent the last two hours crying in front of us, two people he has never met. He has told us about his family that has nothing to eat; of friends dying around him; of his brother who is dying slowly of a treatable kidney condition; of his mother taking in his clothes to accommodate his weight loss; of making the four hour trip to Caracas to fly here by hitching a ride on the back of a truck, not knowing whether the driver will stop and kill him along the dirt road for the contents of his suitcase; of a bar of soap costing more than a month’s wages; of an egg (if he can find one) costing so much that it requires a bag full of cash, cash that is itself in short supply.

    How can I say it plainly enough? The people of Venezuela are starving to death. Let me reword that: the people of Venezuela are being starved to death! Nothing to do with the USA, nothing to do with socialism, nothing to do with left or right or anything in between, and everything to do with a narcomafia criminal regime that is starving its people to death! This is not politics, or ideology of any sort. This is homicidal CRIME! On a mass scale! And the perpetrators of that crime, like head of the illegal Constituent Assembly Delcy Rodriguez, are now directors of Dudamel’s beloved El Sistema. El Sistema IS the regime! This is why he is avoiding any criticism of people who deserve to be sent to the Hague! How dare he waffle on about beauty, while his directors – the same people who have pumped hundreds of millions into El Sistema’s coffers in return for global propaganda – are responsible for turning the entire country into hell!

    Do you think the people of Venezuela like Luis care a damn about Gustavo Dudamel and his skype sessions? Do you think they care a damn about the outrageous claims of El Sistema and “social change”? They are watching their friends and their country die around them. And Gustavo Dudamel can only waste the golden opportunity of an Amanpour interview to walk back his previous, one-off call for a restoration of democracy, with mindless Miss Universe utterances about unity and bridges and not wanting a fight!

    Venezuelans are fighting every day, Dudamel, just to survive! Just to eat! They don’t give a damn about the opening measure of Beethoven 5! How utterly absurd is your lack of insight and empathy into the plight of your own people, at the hands of your own backers!

  • Sue says:

    Technology!! Absolutely wonderful! Go well, Dude.

  • Geoff Baker says:

    Dudamel talks in this interview about how the death of Armando Cañizales, an El Sistema musician, affected him a year ago.

    Just to interject a couple of inconvenient facts into this story, Cañizales’s aunt responded to Dudamel’s public statement a year ago by writing: “I will never forget the photos of Dudamel embracing Chávez and Maduro, I will never forget that they have boasted about El Sistema all over the world and my nephew even had to pay for his [viola] strings.”

    Cañizales’s uncle commented about Dudamel: “You are as responsible for the death of Armando as the same policeman who shot him. Don’t you dare mention his name, you’re a fake and a scoundrel.”

    And they’re not the only Venezuelans who have never bought the whole Dudamel shtick.

    The whole “El Sistema is above politics” thing is also wearing very thin. Of El Sistema’s five directors, two are high-ranking politicians and a third is the president’s son. These are Dudamel’s colleagues, and somehow I don’t think they are there for their expertise in musical pedagogy. It doesn’t matter whether you look at El Sistema from a left-wing or right-wing or no-wing perspective, it is now inseparable from the Venezuelan government, and to deny this is to prey on the ignorance of international audiences with respect to how El Sistema has really functioned since the arrival of Chávez.


    • The View from America says:


    • Sue says:

      Typical of the failed socialist state to find somebody to blame other than themselves. They are all responsible – they bought into the utopian dream and it turned into a nightmare. OF COURSE IT WOULD. Only a child would think otherwise.

      • william osborne says:

        Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Holland, France, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the UK, Japan, and Finland are all socialist states. Ironically, the Venezuelan government spends slightly less of the country’s GDP than the USA — about 33% vs. 34%.

        The conflict isn’t because V. is socialist, or that it is corrupt or incompetent (especially by the region’s standards,) it’s because the government nationalized the country’s oil and must thus be destroyed by the USA. I’m surprised that this is taking so long. The Venezuelans are more resiliant than I had guessed.

        • V.Lind says:

          How. on earth do you define a “socialist state”? THE UK? You must be crazed.

          These are mixed economies — very capitalist in most cases — with social programmes. Just because the US has never got over their roots as a tax rebellion to the point of letting taxes support the many, thus providing health care to all, does not make every other state that somehow manages to provide a social safety net “socialist.”

          • M2N2K says:

            His “definition” is typical of those who have no idea what real socialism is – whether totalitarian or dictatorial.

          • william osborne says:

            By your definition Venezuela is by no means socialist. As I mentioned earlier, the Venezuelan government spends a smaller percentage of its GDP than the USA.

            To borrow heavily from Merriam-Webster, the term socialism has been interpreted in widely diverging ways, ranging from statist to libertarian, from Marxist to liberal. A common usage now refers to Social Democarcy in which extensive state regulation, with limited state ownership, has been employed by democratically elected governments (as in almost all of the EU) in the belief that it produces a fair distribution of income without impairing economic growth. This is also the form of socialism used in Venezuela. The USA also has characteristics of this form of socialism, though less so than most all other developed countries.

            Democratic socialism has been under strong attack over the last 20 years by neoliberalism. Through US pressure, many formerly state owned enterprises in the EU and Latin America have been privatized (rail systems, postal systems, telecommunications, hospitals, water systems, electrical grids, etc.) Some of these developments have been controversial, especially when it involves turning over natural resources to international corporations such as oil in Venezuela,copper in Chile, or farm land in Central America.

            In Latin America, when US diplomatic and economic pressure is insufficient to bring about change, the US government has a history of undermining the governments through embargoes, sanctions, and military invention usually through proxies. Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua, and El Salvador are a few of the more recent examples.

            As I said earlier, it is surprising that Venezuela has resisted this pressures for so long, including even a US orchestrated coup attempt, but sooner or later it will fall, and the country will return to an oligarchy serving American interests typical of Latin America. The people will be worse off than even now, and Sistema will come to an end except for some sort of small program in its place to serve as an alibi.

          • william osborne says:

            BTW, there is yet another form socialism called market socialism, which is what China has. Think what we may of it and its human rights record, it has had an annual growth rate average of about 10% for the last 30 years, and has created the world’s second largest nominal GDP. In a span of about 40 years, it has lifted around one billion people out of abject poverty, certainly an achievement of major historical proportions –though of course, that remains unacknowledged in the west. One of the reasons this has happened is that China has an enormous population with military capabilities that brought to an end to the West’s destruction of is sovereignty, thus freeing it from the West’s economic exploitation. Venezuela does not have that advantage, and sooner or later its government will be destroyed as much by external forces as internal.

          • M2N2K says:

            Calling contemporary Chinese economy “socialist” shows your ignorance of the subject even more clearly than before.

  • B.K. says:

    Here’s a powerful and highly articulate response to that interview. Read and learn.


    • V.Lind says:

      We’ve already had it — Sam McElroy above.

      As for La Montero: On the one hand, she says: “Does that involve temporarily risking El Sistema? Yes, it does! Why on earth should any one privileged group be immune from the struggles of the broader society?” On the other: “Every day I receive messages from people like Luis imploring me to send them money, food, medicines and, most of all, hope. Luis has been asking me patiently for two years to get him out, and he is one of the lucky ones for whom, because of his obvious talent, we were able to structure an actionable exit strategy.” I see an inconsistency there.

      Chavez managed to reduce poverty significantly in Venezuela when he came to power. The economy was hit hard by falling oil prices, as well as corruption in the inner circles of big business. Ms.Montero probably yearns for the days when Venezuelans were not asked to pay tax to support their less affluent brethren to food and medicine — from her well-heeled vantage point in the US she can afford to cherry-pick “actionable strategies” for “obvious talents.”(This, in a nutshell, is what is wrong with the US, or at least the Republican, attitude that taxpayers should do nothing for their neighbours; leave it to charities, to which they all claim to contribute. The problem with charities is that they choose their recipients, while taxes, at least nominally, go to all eligibles).

      I doubt the Maduro regime is one to be welcomed, but it might be aided. I’m pretty sure the Americans are making sure it is not. There is more than one intransigent agenda here.

      • Sam McElroy says:

        Ok, V. Lind. Here we go…

        What strikes me as extraordinary, and frankly unconscionable, is that you manage to read both what I wrote (above) and what Gabriela Montero posted on FB (as referred to above by B.K), and still manage to pen insults towards the person who is trying – literally – to save lives. How extraordinary a scenario we have here, that, in the face of a humanitarian crisis brought about by a criminal narcomafia regime, it is not the perpetrators who bear the brunt of your ignominy, but the person stepping in every day, virtually alone, to heal wounds by sending cash, food, medicines, plane tickets and conservatoire invitations to people she has never even met.

        What sort of frontal lobe diminishment does it need in a man to read either my account of Luis seeking out a better life for himself and spilling his hungry guts to us at our kitchen table, or “La” Montero’s (she’s a woman, not a fish) rebuke of criminal authoritarians and their hijacking of music for propaganda purposes, to conclude that WE are the enemy?

        What sort of twisted logic does it require of a man’s mind to extrapolate the impossibly wayward and, frankly, insulting conclusion that Montero “probably yearns for the days when Venezuelans were not asked to pay tax to support their less affluent brethren [‘s right to] to food and medicine”, rather than observing within her direct actions a self-evident compassion and altruism, the same compassion and altruism which underpins the moral claims of the theoretical socialism you so adore?

        On the facts, once and hopefully for all:

        1. By any metrics or on-the-ground observation, Chavismo did not reduce poverty. It decimated the middle class and thrust an entire nation into a deep crisis of poverty as never witnessed before in Venezuela – hence Luis sitting opposite me in our kitchen right now wearing my old gym clothes. It sought to curry votes in the early years by creating the outer, fickle shell of social programs – while expediently handing out free beer and microwaves and fridges – funded by its nationalised oil industry. Nothing wrong with that in principle if, like Norway, you have the executive skills, visionary foresight and moral compass to transparently administer a petrocarbon state. Unlike Norway, however, it followed Castro’s instructions to systematically destroy the private sector, wilfully creating an almost total dependency on oil-funded imports while presuming the golden egg-laying goose would never age or, heaven forbid, die. In doing so, it removed the possibility for the likes of “La” Montero (the ones who could not leave Venezuela, yes) to pay income taxes, since they removed the possibility of generating income!

        2. Those who gained power on a pledge to serve the poor, then, collapsed the state, having neglected (at best) to feed and water the golden goose. You can only blame falling global oil prices if you adhere to the empirically dubious principle that states should not diversify their economies through private sector investment, but dump all their golden eggs in one flimsy basket. In collapsing the state, they lined their own pockets with sums of cash that would make former “oligarchs” blush. Just ask Ferrari salesmen or real estate brokers in Miami. They also went into business with the drug cartels and became global distributors of cocaine, opening new routes to the US and sub-saharan Africa, but hey, who’s counting vices?

        3. All the while, they pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into orchestras playing the music of the “European elites”, the very same elites they vowed to eradicate by elevating the forgotten indigene – like the very forgotten Luis sitting in our kitchen eating eggs for the first time in his recent memory. They did this because they were masterfully persuaded by J.A.Abreu as to the emotional propaganda capital offered by the symbolic optics of the orchestral unit, not because of their deep love of Mahler (or any other European-Jewish intellectual whom they openly despised).

        4. “La” Montero does not live in the US. She left three years ago to move to one of Osbourne’s so-called “socialist” countries, where she enjoys the privilege of paying higher taxes than she would have in the US because, contrary to your malicious accusation, she does NOT believe “that taxpayers should do nothing for their neighbours”. Would you like us to publish our tax returns? Suffice it to say that, with fees, taxes and expenses counted, she keeps about 34% of everything she earns. Hardly selfish, V.Lind.

        5. “La” Montero, by extension, is NOT a republican, any more than she is a fish.

        6. There is no moral inconsistency in her:

        a. claiming the general assertion that – in the context of a radically authoritarian state apparatus – no one class of citizen (musicians, in this case) ought to seek material immunisation against the broader societal effects of authoritarianism by actively cozying up and rendering favours to the oppressor, while

        b. selectively offering (she is not a state!) humanitarian help to individuals in mortal danger as a consequence of that oppressor’s actions.

        If, by now, you have not concluded that “La” Montero is not the enemy, or that her moral compass is not set to a solid magnetic north, or that it is possible to protest criminals on the far far left without belonging to the far far right, then I’m afraid there is really nothing I can say or do to convince you. You are as hopeless a case as the religious zealot.

        I can only ask you one question: if you are driven by the principles of moral equity inherent in pure socialist political philosophy, why have you not offered one single word of condemnation towards the criminals who have created historic levels of INEQUITY in Venezuela? Why, in other words, do you insist on condemning the social worker and not the abuser?

        • V.Lind says:

          Your arguments are persuasive, and cogent. I am prepared to accept much of what they say on merit, and to let them inform my further reading. That there is corruption high up in Venezuela is credible to me; that there is incompetence has been proven. However I do not think it started with Chavez, nor do I think he sought power to destroy his country — an American attitude that has propped up dictators over anything vaguely socialist for over half a century in their own hemisphere alone.

          I think I object most to the eternal picking on Dudamel. I suppose one focuses on one’s own field of expertise, and Ms. Montero’s is music. But to read some of what she writes, one would sometimes think that Abreu and Dudamel were responsible for many of the ills of Venezuela. Clearly — whether rightly or wrongly — they both saw merit in El Sistema (as have many others, including some of its graduates placed well in musical careers throughout the world, and those countries or regions that have sought to emulate the notion that providing musical training to children from deprived areas has good social as well as artistic consequences). That they have been friendly with governments that supported El Sistema is not unnatural. Dudamel has said again and again that he just wants to get on with the music. That he is not allowed to is at least partly down to his critics, like Ms. Montero, who seem to think they can insist upon his taking a public stance against his benefactors.Perhaps he should, but perhaps he does not see it that way.

          And perhaps I am too inclined to lump Latin American critics of socialist regimes with those who opposed Cuba after 1959 — which, for all its sins, was better for Cubans than what it replaced, and would have been better still if a rabidly anti-socialist US had not treated it as if it was leprous almost from Day One. If the US government had received Castro properly when he first came to the UN it is debatable whether Cuba would have fallen into the communist bloc at all. But the Americans had heard the word nationalisation, which to their fevered minds meant only a reduction of the exploitative profiteering that has always been their brand of imperialism, and closed all avenues for dialogue. Since then policy has been dictated by the Miami Cubans, who never cared about Cuban people, only about Cuban things — theirs. The US has followed similar paths throughout the hemisphere, from trying to undermine freely elected leaders like Allende and Ortega to in one case organising the very overthrow of the former, leading to a very nasty period for the Chilean people. For anyone who prefers Batista to Castro, Pinochet to Allende or Somoza to Ortega I have little time. Some of them may have been around too long (Allende never had that chance, and neither would Ortega have had if the evil Iran-Contra scheme had been more successful — but the Nicaraguan people deemed otherwise) but they were better for their own people than what they replaced, if not for US commercial interests. And the US has those in Venezuela, so I am suspicious of its motives, and — perhaps unfairly — those of the people who support them.

          In the same way that I wish people would leave Dudamel alone — I cannot accept him as an evil man — I accept that I ought to render the same courtesy to Ms. Montero. And before you plan my assassination, I am not making equivalents of their diverse positions — merely of my own in terms of trying to view someone’s actions fairly whatever my own view. As I believe Venezuelan history before Chavez led inevitably to a Chavez, and I think Chavez might have had a better chance with hemispheric support, I do find the Maduro regime anathema and of course wish for better for the people of Venezuela. But I do not think the solution is to be found in the pronouncements of someone like Dudamel, and I will continue to wonder at the perspective of someone who never misses a chance to try to ruin him.

  • collin says:

    Is there no Venezuelan community in LA? Where is the outrage in LA? The classical music community is pretty insular but even the #metoo movement has penetrated it, yet dictator lovers always get a free pass. (I’m talking historically across the globe.) What is it about the classical music audience that make us so damn passive and nonjudgemental?

  • Sharon says:

    I believe that what is upsetting people about Maduro is not only that the economy is a disaster but that he has eliminated all dissent. By doing so he is planting the seeds of his own destruction which will probably happen pretty quickly.

    If he allowed the opposition political space yes, they may still have obstructed his economic program, but they also would have had to take responsibility for the failure.
    Therefore be less obstructionist to social programs.

  • hernan says:

    The United States has declared that Venezuela is a threat to its national security. The United States has declared economic war on the people of Venezuela. The United States has funded a violent opposition that has set on fire supporters of the Bolivarian Revolution. The United States has declared that it supports a military coup in Venezuela. The United States has established military bases in Colombia. The United States has had military maneuvers off the Venezuelan coast. The United States has declared that a US invasion of Venezuela is on the table. Gustavo Dudamel with his silence on American aggression. Dudamel has criticsized the Venezuelan government for protecting the security of the people of Venezuela from the violence of the US supported rioters. Gustavo Dudamel is a product of the largess of the Hugo Chavez supproted “El Sistema” which cost his working class family NOTHING.
    President Nicolas Maduro has called Gustavo Dudamel a traitor. I think this is accurate.