To those who pretend that El Sistema is unpolitical

To those who pretend that El Sistema is unpolitical


norman lebrecht

August 21, 2018

From my morning inbox:

Melanie Stoutzker and the Trustees of Sistema England warmly invite you to join them for the Sistema Europe Youth Orchestra 2018 (SEYO18) concert and reception at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall on 26 August 2018, celebrating the power of music to unite nations and of youth aspiration through adversity.  

This August, Sistema Europe Youth Orchestra 2018 brings together 200 young musicians from 16 countries in Europe for a vital cultural gathering, including young musicians from music for social action projects in England: The Nucleo Project, In Harmony Lambeth, Liverpool, Newcastle and Telford. 

Sometimes one is stupefied by the willing myopia of classical music administrators. The recent history of Venezuela has shown El sistema to be an instrument of a terror regime in Venezuela that is reducing many citizens to the choice of starvation or emigration.

Yet useful idiots in western democracies continue to pretend that El sistema is politically neutral, untouched by politics and of overwhelming (if unproven) benefit to mankind.

This has to stop.


Yesterday the Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero issued the following challenge to Sir Simon Rattle after he continued to defend el Sistema and its premier star, Gustavo Dudamel:

For many years, the Chavez regime has appropriated El Sistema – not merely symbolically, but under a formal Ministry of the regime – as its primary propaganda tool abroad. It has paid hundreds of millions of petro-dollars for this laundering privilege, using an impenetrable “salvation narrative” as its most effective detergent.

Some, not many, refused to be part of the charade. They refused the sort of offers that Abreu – famous for asserting that “everyone has a price” – made to me in person, as long ago as 2004: “Enough money to take care of you for a lifetime, mi querida.” They refused to collaborate with the architects of our nation’s destruction. Some, not many, are not for sale.

Now that the nation has collapsed, those same collaborators are now reinventing themselves as victims, often with the help of loyal journalists and colleagues.

But Gustavo Dudamel is not a victim, Sir Simon, and it is preposterously insulting to the true victims of this crisis to claim otherwise.

Nor, at 35, is he a child that should be wrapped in cotton wool. He is a free, moral agent, whose moral choices are subject to the same public scrutiny as anyone else in a position of power. He “endures” nothing. He is a beneficiary. He is a multi-millionaire beneficiary, in fact, who willingly enjoyed the private-jet lifestyle created for him by Chavez, Abreu and Maduro. He willingly partied and dined for years with the monsters who have destroyed my country. He willingly befriended the cast of a mafia that now controls a narco-state of starving, fleeing, dying, murdered, tortured, deprived citizen victims. He is no victim….

Your final paragraph, Sir Simon, demonstrates – unwittingly, perhaps, but efficiently nonetheless – the mafia structure you have been dealing with all these years:

“The last time we were there, my family and I were robbed of everything in the room. Abreu told me not to worry because he would call number two to solve it. The next day everything appeared in its place. Nothing was missing. What kind of threats would number two throw at the hotel staff to make it so? It was Maduro. Today number two applies that method of terror throughout the country.”

You were robbed. You called Abreu, who called “Number 2”, and your property was immediately returned. You intended to demonstrate that Venezuela TODAY is governed by a brute, and that somehow Dudamel is a victim of that brutality. What, in fact, you illustrated is that he has willingly served a mafia system for years and years, and that Abreu was so powerfully connected to it that he could resolve your problems with a single call to “number 2”. This is the stuff of mafia novels.

Venezuelans know this. They have refused to listen to the “salvation narrative” for years now. In Venezuela, they have a saying: “No se puede estar bien con Dios y con el Diablo” (“you can’t serve God and the Devil at the same time”).


  • Tamino says:

    “Yet useful idiots in western democracies continue to pretend that El sistema is politically neutral, untouched by politics and of overwhelming (if unproven) benefit to mankind.”

    Wow, how aggressive. I haven’t heard anyone to claim that in the west.
    Of course it’ touched by politics. Like any program sponsored by government in any country.
    What the El Sistema enemies don’t get is, that they do not make friends and allies by spouting hyperbolic propaganda. People are smarter than that. Unlike the El Sistema haters maybe.

    • Mike Schachter says:

      Last year the useless idiots celebrated a century since the Russian Revolution of supporting murderers and dictators who had “progressive” slogans. Clearly incapable of learning.

      • Tamino says:

        Useless idiots also voted Trump into office, over a year ago, while some other useless idiots voted for the other candidate. Wherever you look, useless idiots. Depressing.

        • Mike Schachter says:


        • Sue says:

          To my certain knowledge Trump isn’t slaughtering people who disagree with him or having them ‘disappear’. But you’d have to have an education to understand the difference and Generation Snowflake has been denied that luxury.

          • steven holloway says:

            Hmmm. Sue thinks that education is a luxury, one Sue’s parents obviously couldn’t afford. Sue does rather seem to seethe with loathings and resentments much in the manner of certain politicians for whom she has expressed affection. These hatreds she directs toward a highly nebulous, if not mythical, certainly undefined demographic she calls ‘snowflakes’. All this requires more thought so we might at last determine where Sue is and where she’s coming from. I’m not sure I want to know where she’s been.

      • Sue says:

        These are one and the same people who suffer from “Venezuela envy”. It’s a recognized pathology.

  • Tamino says:

    Also, this unilateral nonsense is tiring. The current state of affairs is as much an outcome of the Chavista regime as it is an outcome of the US imperialist policies of many decades in South and Middle America. A bystander can only shake his head in despair, seeing how the people always suffer, no matter which side has the upper hand.

    El Sistema is bottomline a great achievement and hope for many in the middle of all this economic warfare.

    • Elena Riu says:

      I am sorry but It absolultely bloody isn’t. This is left- tish UK propaganda. The catastrophe which is unfolding now is the sole product of the utter malevolence and ignorance ( a terrible combination), of a bunch of drug trafficking crooks. Chavez and Maduro and their crones have robbed, embecilled, laundered the resources of a formerly prosperous nation. They are murdering babies, they are applying stalinist methods to starve any will out of our people. Nature is being decimated. The Orinoco, the marvellous Angel Falls, nothing is sacred to them. We are a desperate nation. We need the truth , the whole truth and nothing but thet truth to be known so that we can secure the humanitarian help and intervention we so badly need.

      • Tamino says:

        You have your facts wrong. Venezuela was hit by an economic crisis in the 1980s. Until then it had lived prosperously on its surging oil revenue, but not managed to build a robust sustainable economy with the profits. The Chavista regime came to power, because of the crisis, not the other way around. Inflation rate was 85% in 1989 and 99% in 1996. Chavez was elected in 1998.

      • Sue says:

        I remember being on playground duty as a teacher in a highschool and having the Deputy Principle wax lyrical about Chavez (this was 2006). He told me with a straight face “he doesn’t like Bush”. I merely replied, “well, who’d have thought?”

        I later told a colleague, in disbelief, about this exchange and he commented “how old is he now; still 18?”.

        There are legions of useful idiots like my erstwhile colleague.

      • Jean says:

        Maybe the neighboor Mexico is a pure paradise and no one is trying to emigrate from… The only murdered people are reporters and trade-union activists, fast nothing… Let’s clean your glasses, please.

    • The View from America says:

      Yeah — go ahead and believe that.


  • Rgiarola says:

    Only the sttuborn still believe El sistema isn’t a propaganda for a dictator, or the ones that still get advantages.

  • James says:

    As always, the truth lies in the middle of the hyperbole of both sides of this. What Maduro has done to Venezuela is nothing short of criminal. Chavez did a number as well, as have, sadly, most of the leaders of Venezuela in the past number of years. I don’t think anyone would consider Jose Antonio Abreu a perfect man, but with that said, his contribution to hundreds of thousands of young Venezuelans cannot be forgotten either. He was a man who saw what needed to be done to get funding for instruments, teachers, and outside attention. If that meant cozying up to brutes like Chavez, then so be it. El Sistema as a social program remains a model for the world. The emergence of wonderful and exciting musicians like Gustavo Dudamel, Diego Matheuz, Rafael Payare, Alejandro Carreno and more proves that. Hundreds of thousands of children passed through El Sistema, and most of them would say that they are better people for it, which was Abreu’s mission from the beginning. Its possible to abhor Chavez and Maduro and still support the mission of El Sistema and consider it a worthy cause.

    • V.Lind says:

      And the international “El Sistemas” have adopted the principles El Sistema professes, whether they live up to Ms. Montero’s standards or not, and are guiltless of any complicity as THEY try to raise young musicians from deprived areas to better lives. For her to be a critic of Venezuela is her prerogative, and she is a passionate advocate for her position. But she should lay off other countries, which have their own problems, and she should not make such a noise in order to advance her cause at the cost of young Europeans’ aspirations.

      • steven holloway says:

        I think there may be some confusion here, courtesy of NL. I suspect the Sistema England announcement was a discrete item in his inbox. What follows immediately after that is most likely his comment, though the writing is atypical. And then, a third discrete element in the Montero statement. Presented as they are, NL has conflated them, or perhaps just made it confusing. I am not sure, and thus can’t be bothered trying to sort it out. But certainly, whoever is linking Sistema England with Maduro et al. is unfair and foolish.

        • Anon says:

          Not so. El Sistema has long served as an international propaganda vehicle for Chavez and Maduro. This has been greatly helped by the international organisations like Sistema England that have acted as cheerleaders and have ignored all the political and educational issues around El Sistema in Venezuela.

          • steven holloway says:

            I am well aware of how El Sistema has been used and abused by the Government of Venezuala. Sistema England and others are another matter. They are not responsible for that abuse and they cannot be expected to take it upon themselves to do battle with it. I suspect they have enough on their plates doing sterling work with disadvantaged youth and children in England, Scotland, and elsewhere. The system itself is not inherently abusive. I simply fail to see what in the opening statement of this post justifies the diatribe from NL that follows.

  • Alex Klein says:

    Is truth in the eye of the beholder?

    Any and all politicians will kling to whatever it is that may remotely bring their numbers up, be it the military, the sistema or Aunt Maria’s cooking. If it does well, they will come around and find a way to say its all their doing. It seems that Maduro and the ghost of Chavez can celebrate now, as they can see in this post how the efforts of Jose Antonio Abreu and that of thousands of kids and teachers can be seen as a product of politics and not of music. Their black magic has worked, apparently. In fact, I would be able to see this post as an unabashed pro-Maduro rally – including Gabriela’s letter – because when you tie a beautiful project like El Sistema to a politician who is argued to be a bad apple, you also declare the demise of El Sistema as a by-product of the demise of that politician. And couldn’t care less if it does. If Maduro is a problem, focus your efforts on him, and not on what worked well in Venezuela! What, do we want the people really to have nothing left? Do you truly believe that if El Sistema stopped working today Maduro would fall tomorrow? Really now?

    The poor end up with nothing. As usual.

    El Sistema was created and achieved enormous success with the premise of teaching civilization standards to a part of society who wasn’t getting any. That is where this discussion happens. In the eyes of a kid and a family who tries to survive the idiocy of political and economic troubles. And now we see that the idiocy is growing to the point of engulfing all the good El Sistema has done, and continues to do and inspire millions and copycats around the world.

    If we are going to define the world according to politicians, by gosh let’s embrace Donald Trump, build walls where people travel by air, call CNN fake news, turn international trade into turmoil, ignore global warming because you can make more money with a dirty planet, start wars and then kill people for no particular reason. And deny the poor among us the little they can get access to in terms of high civilization as symbolized by a violin lesson. Just because they can.

    What is needed in this discussion is not a marriage of Maduro en El Sistema with a live-together-die-together sentence, nor a call to boycott what works because of what doesn’t. Aren’t you tired of ‘sanctions’ yet? What we need is to protect cultural and progressive projects from being taken over by politicians. The problem is with Maduro and not El Sistema. Please don’t through out the baby with the bath water. Protect the kids and their opportunities. Every one who reads or posts here should engage in sponsoring a Venezuelan kid with a scholarship or a way out, instead of criticizing the greatest musical movement to come by in a very very long time, who cares if the project has imperfections or the current politicians are swarming around it like vultures read to eat the carcass defended by this post.

    • anon says:

      “Every one who reads or posts here should engage in sponsoring a Venezuelan kid with a scholarship or a way out…”

      I already adopted a Syrian, a Rwandan, a Ukrainian, an Afghan, an Iraqi, a Palestinian, a Mexican separated from his mother at the US border…

    • Anon says:

      Read the full letter. It includes the following:

      ‘The true victims – presuming that it should be the moral imperative of us all to identify and help the true victims – are the penniless millions of Venezuelans walking across the unforgiving South American landmass with their bundles on their backs. The true victims are people like Luis Magallanes, the young Venezuelan tenor living in my home since May 4th, whose harrowing story was published the same day in Spain’s other broadsheet, El Mundo. I humbly suggest you read it. (see below)

      When you have read it, perhaps you could join me in taking action to create a fund for the other true victims – musical and otherwise – trying to find a better life elsewhere. They need urgent help. The last thing they need is wasted column space advocating for the wrong cause.’

      While Dudamel and Rattle just spout myths and fabrications, it is Gabriela Montero, the most prominent El Sistema critic, who is helping El Sistema refugees.

    • Sam McElroy says:

      @Alex Klein

      We have taken four musicians out of Venezuela this last year, with Gabriela’s direct intervention. Three just finished their first year in Barcelona, thanks to the generosity of ESMUC and funding from the Venezuelan community abroad. The fourth, a young tenor, has been living in our home since May 4th. We fundraised for and arranged his passage from deep in the heart of rural Venezuela, organized a two-year scholarship at the incredibly generous and compassionate Royal Academy of Music in Dublin, and successfully secured his student visa, despite severe obstacles. We also arranged his financing and accommodation for the next two years. Luis’s story was published in El Mundo on August 16th. It is deeply moving, and we hope others may follow suit.

      We have been reluctant to publish this work, which began in July ‘17, since rabid trolls will acuse us of seeking publicity for our actions, but I risk doing so here in order to support your practical call to help, Alex, even if we have some intellectual disagreement over your choice of utilitarian ethics.

      Gabriela’s letter concluded, indeed, with a suggestion to Sir Simon that he help her set up a fund to help those who are now desperately in need, including, but not restricted to musicians. 7% of the Venezuelan population is now in exile, and the number is accelerating upwards.

      We encourage conservatories and orchestras all over the world to create scholarships and young artists’ contracts wherever possible to help, at least temporarily. We also urge journalists to focus on the real crisis, instead of wasting column space (El País) on the supposed victimhood of a multi-millionaire conductor safely ensconced in L.A. And we urge the international community to do all it can to alleviate the suffering of Venezuelan citizens, which includes protecting migrants crossing borders by foot.

      (And I urge the far left on this blog to cease presuming that you own compassion. You don’t. Nor is everyone who criticizes far-left criminals implicitly a far-right Fox News / Breitbart junkie. They just don’t like far-anything! Is that so hard to grasp?)

  • anon says:

    Sistema Europe?

    Doesn’t that already exist, isn’t it called a conservatory?

    • Anon says:

      Yes, but they took it to South America and then brought it back again with funky (or slightly Orwellian, depending on your outlook) name. So now it’s cool.

  • Patrick says:

    Does Simon Rattle care what Gabriela Montero thinks? Pffff….

    • Anon says:

      He might. He may be deluded about El Sistema, having been fed a bunch of lies and simplifications, but he doesn’t appear to be stupid. Admittedly it’s hard to imagine in the age of Trump and Brexit, but he might break the mould and use Montero’s letter as a catalyst to look into matter more deeply, consider the evidence, and revise his opinion.

      • Tamino says:

        Yes, hopefully he starts El Sistema in the US after reading Gabriela’s letter.
        After considering the evidence, that is.

        • Anon says:

          You are confusing ‘what I believe to be true’ with ‘the evidence.’ It’s a common mistake. It’s why we’re in so much shit right now.

          • Tamino says:

            You want to hear some evidence of 100 years of horrific inhumane meddling of the US for corporate interests in South America? Or what evidence do you mean?

    • Sam says:

      What matters, Patrick, is that Gabriela Montero cares about what Sir Simon thinks, and what he publishes.

      I imagine that a man in his position will care about what she thinks, too, since it is abundantly clear that both have the interests of music education in their hearts, like the readership here generally, I presume.

      Gabriela simply wishes to uncouple music education from narco-dictatorial dependency and criminal corruption, which seems to me like a sensible, ethical proposition. Not all ends justify all means, and only the most utilitarian among us would disagree.

    • Elena Riu says:

      He so should. She is actually Venezuelan. He isn’t. She is as internationally respected as a musician as he is. And she has earned her place as a woman in a harsh world where white male supremacy still reigns suoreme.. I do not blame Rattle. When he went to Caracas like every other international guest , he donned rose- tinted glasses courtesy of the Venezuelan government . Communist dictators only want people to see what they allow them to see. But he should have checked his facts better before making such statements in the international press. And to be honest, who cares about a violin when there is No FOOD.Those children go home to families were the mother has to choose which child to feed on that day. And by he way, many of Venezuela’s best musicians were not products of El Sistema and came out of elite families. The El Sistema UK kids go home and have something to eat. There is social security here. And hospitals. With anyibiotics! And Syringes! And dialisis equipment! Now THAT is lucky.

      • Tamino says:

        “many of Venezuela’s best musicians were not products of El Sistema and came out of elite families.”

        Like Gabriela Montero you mean? Who left Venezuela at the age of nine in 1979 to study in the US and since never lived in Venezuela again?
        It is no coincidence that she left Venezuela at the hight of its prosperous oil boom. Her memories of the country are of a prosperous one. But with the 1980s came the economic crisis and downfall, crazy inflation rates and all. All that was not the doing of the Chavistas, but of the previous US backed governments. Only in 1998, after many many years of economic decline, did Chavez win the election.
        No wonder she thinks all was rosy in Venezuela before the Chavez regime. She never lived there in those years, where the low oil price sent the country, that hadn’t managed to grow an economy outside of the oil revenue, into poverty.
        The election victory of Chavez was a result of that economic hardship, not the other way around. That the Chavistas couldn’t change that to the better is also true. And now on top of all the misery the economic warfare by the US pushes the country further down into total chaos.

        • Sam McElroy says:

          I don’t know what you smoke with your magic flute, Tamino, but you don’t get to own you own facts, especially concerning Gabriela. (I’ll presume, by now, that the world knows enough about the Chavista criminal apparatus to dismiss your other US conspiracy theory / false equivalency nonsense as trolling).

          Since I’m married to her, let me assume the authority to clarify for readers that she is not part of any elite family. She grew up in a low-income, middle-class family. A child prodigy, she was given a modest scholarship by the VZ government to study in Miami at 8 years old. When that scholarship ran out at 12, it became impossible for both of her parents and her brother to remain with her in Miami. Her father and brother returned to VZ, leaving her apartment-hopping on credit card debt for years with her mother, and contributing to the painful breakup of the family. She never had so much as a family home. Indeed, she was only in a position to buy her first home in 2006 – on the eve of the global financial crisis, unfortunately.

          As for living in Venezuela, she regularly returned for long spells, including 88-90, 97-98, 03-06. Her family remained there for the most part, and, as for any international soloist traveling well over half of every year, a home base there was impossibly impractical. The destruction of the country under Chavismo has ensured she is never likely to fulfil her dream of returning.

          Truth is truth.

  • Anon says:

    The second part of Montero’s letter is missing. The full text can be found here:

  • william osborne says:

    There is no other form of art that is used more strongly for cultural diplomacy than orchestras. Why are orchestras so well-suited to this kind of work?

    We see the conniptions often evoked by Sistema and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. There’s something almost racist behind these sublimated views.
    Uppity “inferior” peoples like Latin Americans and Arabs aren’t supposed to have good symphony orchestras which are to be the realm of superior Nordic races.

    And of course, we see this demographic among the orchestras and the public in the USA too, though the history of suppression of blacks and Hispanics isn’t so subliminal….

    Some discussion of orchestras and diplomacy here:

    • william osborne says:

      For more about the symphony orchestra and conceptions of Nordic superiority see:

      Pamela M. Potter, “Most German of the Arts: Musicology and Society from the Weimar Republic to the End of Hitler`s Reich”, 1998.

      • FactsMatter says:

        Montero just played with the non-politically affiliated, privately funded, pan-American, Orchestra of the Americas – at the Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg.

        The orchestra was comprised of musicians under 30 from 27 countries across both American continents. The program, too, represented both continents: Chavez (not the dictator, of course), Montero (Piano Concerto No.1, the “Latin” Concerto), and Copland. The ensemble was more ethnically diverse than a nightclub in Harlem.

        The Hamburger Abendblatt called it the most magical night yet at the new hall.

        This is what Die Welt had to say…

        • william osborne says:

          Indeed, facts matter. The Die Welt article is permeated with politics and illustrates exactly my point about how orchestras are used politically. “Kids of 24 nations,” “all parts of the American continent,” “rich and poor countries,” “some more democratic and some less,” “origins and class didn’t hinder admittance
          to the most sought-after orchestra in the world,” “looking at the joyful and proud faces one immediately notices that here, without big words, a vision of a world working together with open borders is made a reality.”

          The lingo of Sistema is appropriated, but turned toward a neo-liberal agenda: open borders, deregulation, privatization, anti-nationalist, etc. And the perfunctory comments about Venezuela as a “criminal state” had to be worked in too.

          And what better paper than Die Welt for this. It was founded by the British in Hamburg in 1946 to promote an Anglo-American version of unmitigated capitalism. The paper describes itself as “liberal cosmopolitan” but is known as conservative. The result is the usual libertarian concepts of unmitigated, open-bordered capitalism that the financial elite in the USA and Germany love. Die Welt and this orchestral riposte to Sistema make a perfect combination. And of course, the Slippedisc contingent of Fox News/Breitbart fans love it.

          • Geoff Baker says:

            No, I’m sorry, you’ve got this completely the wrong way round.

            “The lingo of Sistema is appropriated, but turned toward a neo-liberal agenda.”

            El Sistema’s founder, Abreu, was part of a conservative political group at the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello (UCAB) with Pedro Tinoco and Marcel Granier, two key architects of Venezuelan neoliberalism, and he was a right-hand man of President Carlos Andrés Pérez during the sharp turn toward neoliberalism from 1989.

            What actually happened was that the lingo of Sistema was transformed in the mid-1990s to early 2000s and turned towards a populist and then socialist agenda, as Abreu’s eagerness for power led him to abandon his decades-long conservative stance and actively court Chávez.

            You are free to applaud Abreu’s 180-degree political swing, but not to turn El Sistema’s history on its head.

    • Anon says:

      I’m sorry, but this is way, way off topic. Where did Gabriela Montero – who has just finished touring with a Latin American symphony orchestra – say or imply that Latin Americans aren’t supposed to have good symphony orchestras?

      • william osborne says:

        I think in the larger picture that it is quite relevant. American hegemony over Latin America depends, among other things, on these countries’ low levels of education and weakened cultural identities. The immense success of Sistema demonstrates a confidence and autonomy that threatens the status quo of American domination in Latin America that has existed for over a century.

      • buxtehude says:

        Agree. I think the point is to ditch any institutional and name ties to this awful government, which is wrecking vengeance on its own population above biblical proportions — there were far fewer people to destroy back in ancient times.

        I’m completely puzzled by Wm Osborne’s belief in the relevance of symphony orchestras to social and national emancipation in Latin America. Not only do these marvelous organizations count for pretty much nothing in the larger political scheme nowadays but this delusion that they do, loads all sorts of obligations on to their ever-shrinking popular and financial foundations.

        Hitler led the first strong national anti-smoking initiative. He was a big planter of trees. We don’t celebrate him for these good things. Let the propagation of classical music-making in poor neighborhoods be carried on with clean hands.

        A final thought: no matter how awful the deterioration in Venezuala, news of it continues to act as little more than a trigger for already-embedded political slogans, among many people. Knowing someone who has to contend there, at first hand, or even at second or third hand, can focus the mind differently.

        • The View from America says:

          but … but … Mussolini made the trains run on time in Italy!

          … and healthcare costs patients nothing in Cuba!

          … and German engineering and efficiency is the envy of the world!

          … and now you want to tear down the glorious social experiment that *is* El Sistema. Shame on you!

  • Alvaro says:

    Just when one thought Fox News was biased….just wow! The bar has been set even lower…

    P.S. Who is Gabriela Montero?

    • Mike Schachter says:

      She is a rather well-known pianist. Are you in the right blog?

    • FactsMatter says:

      And an Honorary Consul of Amnesty International, in recognition of her use of creative dissent to advocate for the voiceless of her country (see, eg., the award-winning “Ex Patria”, her composition dedicated to the 19,336 victims of Venezuelan homicide in the year of its composition). In other words she is a musician of conscience. Perhaps you ARE in the wrong blog…

    • S.M. says:

      This thread demonstrates to me that there is a pressing need for an annual international forum at which these kind of topics can be discussed and debated. Whatever our differences of opinion, it is gratifying to read well articulated, impassioned arguments, as opposed to the ad hominem, mindless attacks you find in so many other places online. Since most of the contributors here have the betterment of our world as a common goal, perhaps an international forum consisting of panel debates, talks, performances – a sort of musical Davos (don’t frown, William O!) – might be a good idea in order to achieve it. The fact is, I see so much good intention but not enough opportunity to reach consensus on how to turn that intention into lasting, positive change. We could bring together musicians, public intellectuals, promoters, managers, agents, and, most importantly, policy makers.

      A Slippedisc International Forum?

      Or did I just get too much sun….?

      • steven holloway says:

        I fear you may have sunstroke. There are more “mindless, ad hominem”, or ad feminam, attacks on SD than on any other music blog, or partly music blog in SD’s case, I read, and I read a lot of ’em. It’s the only such blog I know that lures trolls. The inclusion of not infrequent political posts, most notably re Israel and/or Palestinians, are intended to encourage this, for nothing so fosters numerous returns to the site during one or a few days than a ferocious set-to over certain powder-keg issues. Click-bait stuff. The trolls, some of whom I could but won’t identify, only show up when their pet mania is mentioned in a post, and trolls are very sophisticated when it comes to detecting such mentions. They are also very well-coordinated, organized, and so such a forum would be to them like catnip to an alley cat or a World Cup game in Europe to an English football fan.

        But methinks you know this. You know very well what SD is, don’t you? You are joking, aren’t you?

  • Geoff Baker says:

    It’s interesting to see the repeated assumption that El Sistema is a success.

    In fact, 20 years of evaluations have provided no robust evidence to support that assumption. The most recent and largest quantitative evaluation, by the Inter-American Development Bank, also suggested that the claims about focusing on the poor were greatly exaggerated.

    Donald Trump proclaims loudly and frequently that he is immensely successful, and his supporters believe him. Indeed, he has a lot of financial clout. But a more careful and nuanced assessment would look at the advantages he started with, the way he used every shady trick in the book along the way, and his triumph in a system that was rigged in his favour.

    There are distinct parallels.

    El Sistema was a success in the sense that a Ponzi scheme is a success. It seemed to produce extraordinary returns, as long as money kept being pumped in and everyone turned a blind eye to the detail. If you know anything about El Sistema today, you will know that the pyramid is collapsing, and that many of the program’s “success stories” are now busking at traffic lights across Latin America.

    Finally, if you are interested in Venezuelan takes on El Sistema’s complicity with Venezuela’s current catastrophe, take a look at some of the articles I discuss here:

    A lot of Venezuelans, including graduates and former employees of El Sistema, don’t buy this “success” story any more. The most detailed insider account in English can be found here:

    • Alvaro says:

      It all depends on how one measures “success”. Is a music program going to eliminate poverty? Nobody – even Abreu in his most energized years – claim that.

      The underlying truth for “el sistema” dissenters is one that seems to resonate with a bunch of Trump supporters in this blog and in general: Racism.

      Yes: racism. And elitism as well.

      Europeans and high nosed aristocrats cant accept that there are so many conductors who emerged from barquismeto doing (and often time far surpassing) their blonde, blue eyed pedigree conductors from the “traditional” music education channels. Their Tuxedos wrinkle when they see that more and more orchestras are playing latin american repertoire and that the music of Marquez, Revueltas and Ginastera are no longer Pariahs to Beethoven and Mozart, but often times played as much or nearly as much all thanks to the publicity push that El Sistema brought.

      To them, European-white-blonde has always been the definition of ‘Classical Music’ and if any program of any kind aims to globalize it, well god forbid! I venture to say that it’s critics would still exist were not the excuse of Maduro.

      Look at highways: Highways and freeway entrances and ramps were designed by no other than HITLER to speed the mobilization of troops during WWII. Does that mean we should not use highways? Is the UK or the US in support with Hitlers policies by using the type of engineering he used? Of course these arguments seem bogus – but what the owner of this tabloid suggests is that anybody who creates an “el sistema-like” program must be a supporter of Maduro and his horrendous and criminal regime.

      I guess every time he drives in a highway he’s supporting Hitler then.

      But no, he’s more intelligent than this. Its simply an excuse to becloud the real problem they have with El Sistema. Classical music should not be Latin American, and Latin American composers and conductors should always be second rate to European or the European-descendents in the US. If anything (be “El Sistema” or whatever else) aims to change this, then they will attack it ferociously as they do now.

      • Geoff Baker says:

        That would be fascinating if it weren’t a load of fact-free rubbish.

        The European classical music establishment loves El Sistema.

        All the critical voices I linked to are Venezuelan.

        • Alvaro says:

          Thats precisely my point. El sistema has been succesful because it has broken a long held taboo and hundreds of administrators in EU have adopted it – not for love of latin music or love of kids really, but for love of staying relevant and in a desperate attempt to avoid obsolescense.

          That is precisely what tabloids like this cant accept. The editor cant accept it has been a cultural success, and that mich of the cöassical music scene is shaped by el-sistema and „el sistema like“ kind of efforts.

          They are the racists I am referring to.

  • Anon says:

    Not entirely sure where NL is coming from on this.

    If he’s identifying and objecting to a pro-EU message in the event, it’s worth recalling that El Sistema has been promoted by Policy Exchange’s (and the Daily Telegraph’s) Munira Mirza, and by Michael Gove in the National Plan, neither of whom are very pro EU.

    Are they the ‘useful idiots’ he refers to?

  • Geoff Baker says:

    William Osborne, I’m somewhat mystified by the way you write about the symphony orchestra here. In an earlier life (1999), you critiqued such orchestras as autocratic, hierarchical structures, reproducing the values of the European societies from which they emerged. You identified the growing autocracy of the conductor in the nineteenth century as “culturally isomorphic with the counter-revolutionary authoritarianism that evolved after the suppression of the 1848 revolts in central Europe.” You looked forward to future transformations of the symphony orchestra: new genres, new technological developments, new concepts of community. “Advancements such as these will weaken the patriarchal cultural concept of the artist-prophet and replace the authoritarian, hierarchical social structures of the symphony orchestra that was his instrument.”

    But these changes did not happen with El Sistema, though they easily could have, with all the money it had. On the contrary, Abreu constructed himself as the epitome of the artist-prophet (with a large dash of guru), and he reinforced the authoritarian, hierarchical social structures of the symphony orchestra, outdoing the Old World in a move that has been characteristic of Latin American elites since the 16th century. Furthermore, he constructed an utterly patriarchal system, one memorably characterized by Gisela Kozak Rovero as “a sort of masculine brotherhood of Knights Templar of classical music, with Abreu as the focus of the cult.”

    Have you changed your mind about the symphony orchestra? Or are all bets off when Venezuela is involved?

    Are the worst aspects of classical music culture actually fine if they take place far away from us and under the banner of socialism?

    • Tamino says:

      What are those ‘worst aspects of classical music culture’ you are talking about?
      Is it something to do with Andrea Boccelli and André Rieu? Something with James Levine?
      Ah no, you mean those thousands of kids who got to learn a classical instrument. I see. That’s really bad, the absolute worst.

      • Anon says:

        An ‘authoritarian…utterly patriarchal system’ isn’t enough for you?

        Is this how you’d like to educate children ?

        • Tamino says:

          If the alternative is gun and drug violence and crime, then yes, certainly.
          Probably El Sistema could do wonders for East Los Angeles and Chicago.

          • Anon says:

            Why would El Sistema do wonders for East Los Angeles and Chicago if has failed to do wonders for Caracas, which is currently the second most dangerous city in the world?

      • Anon says:

        Gun crime in USA is by no means confined to specific areas.

        Rather than subjecting children to the ‘civilising’ discipline of El Sistema, it would be more effective to pass legislation to limit availability of guns. But as we know, this has been strongly resisted by patriarchal organisations such as the NRA.

        • Alvaro says:

          This retard thinks that the success of “el sistema” can only be measured if it solves all of the economic and social problems of the societies that host them.

          Nobody ever claimed that El Sistema was going to eliminate all poverty and create a model society just by teaching kids how to play the violin. What nonsense.

          the success of El Sistema is that now pretty much every orchestra in the world is playing revueltas, chavez and Bernstein’s Mambo every season. EVERY. SEASON.

          That’s something that the illustrated in their ivory tower like the owner of this tabloid cannot accept. They want Latin American music and its conductors to always be second class, and god forbid anything changes that, even if it promotes music education and creates young audiences that they so much claim to want.

          They use the Maduro excuse to becloud their racism.

          • The View from America says:

            ” …the success of El Sistema is that now pretty much every orchestra in the world is playing revueltas, chavez and Bernstein’s Mambo every season. EVERY. SEASON.”

            Hyperbole much?

          • Alvaro says:

            I give you 10 minutes to see as much orchestras from anywhere in the world, literally anywhere, you pick, and somewhere in their season they will have a reference or a piece of music in their programimg usually championed by El Sistema. Most will have some form of outreach program that „aims to use music to build communities“ or some other cheap imitation of what El Sistema did. Literally anywhere. I will pay you for esch orchestra you find that is „el sistema influence free“.

            That‘s what these rats cant accept. So much for wanting to bring music to the masses, what they really want is to assert their long gone cultural/artistic/intellectual superiority everywhere. I am also wary of the countless administrators that do an official or unofficial version of El Sistema in their outreach program: they are only interested in selling tickets to the kids and their parents, not real development. Its a cliche.

            But at least the tangible result is an unprecedented increase in Latin conductors and programming of latin music around the world. That is absolutely undeniable, and that is precisely what lebrecht doesnt like.