Sudden death of Venezuelan composer

Sudden death of Venezuelan composer


norman lebrecht

May 21, 2023

We have been notified of the tragic death from a heart attack of Paul Desenne, arguably Venezuela’s leading composer. A founding member in 1977 of the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra and for many years its resident composer, Paul was 63.

The son of a French physician and an American astrologer, he won a cello prize at the Paris Conservatoire. Until a few years ago, Gustavo Dudamel performed several of his works on the world stage.

In the past decade, amid rising violence, he left his mountain chalet outside Caracas and moved to Boston, subsisting on whatever music activity he could find. His works include 5 symphonies and a violin concerto.

The pianist Gabriela Montero writes: ‘My beloved and brilliant Paul Desenne. My friend for over 30 years. My partner in music and experiences. How much we laughed and fought. How much we mourn the loss of Venezuela. How much you missed your homeland in Turgua and longed to return….How many hours shared me composing and you by my side, assisting me with your laptop and knowledge of Logic and Sibelius, a technology I will never learn; ExPatria, my Latin Concert, Babel. We laughed so hard Our sessions were chaotic, passionately crazy and only you understood my process. Our language went beyond words.’

James Ricci writes: ‘We met at the Paris Conservatory in November of 1984 where by chance we sat together for a six hour masterclass by Ligeti. Paul was kind enough to provide me with fluent simultaneous translation from French to English of Ligeti’s presentation – at least until Ligeti lost his temper and scolded both of us for talking over his lecture! Many years later in Boston, Paul and I would recall this event and have a laugh about our famous kerfuffle. The evening after the Ligeti presentation Willemien and I were invited to have dinner with him at his flat in Paris where we spoke about music over French wine for hours on end.
Paul moved to Boston around 2010 and we reconnected. He gave me copies of his scores and recordings. I made sure to follow the highlights of is career and was very pleased to learn of his success and major accomplishments over the years.’

Oliver Herbert writes: It’s difficult to believe the news that the great composer and cellist Paul Desenne has passed away. His music has been a deep source of personal inspiration and something that motivated me to pick up my cello during the period of the 2020 lockdowns. More importantly, his influence has built a bridge inviting me deeper into explorations of the dynamic and diverse worlds of Latin American music, something which I am very grateful for and just beginning my journey with.
Over the past few months, I was lucky enough to make a beautiful connection with Paul around some projects involving his extraordinary work. Not only was I inspired to be in proximity to such a genius creative mind, but I was also taken by how kind, thoughtful, open, and generous he was. I only wish there had been more time to get to know him better… Rest in peace to one of the greats, and may his music live on and touch many more lives.
I will be dedicating my performance of Desenne’s Jaguar Songs on May 28 in San Francisco to his memory.


  • Sam McElroy says:

    You can’t imagine the loss we feel of our closest friend. A true character, burning with witty irreverence, irony, culture, a gift for languages, absurdism, excess, vitality and a dark view of the world as a place selling out to cultural mediocrity and the excessive overreach of political correctness. He lamented the loss of Venezuela, and despised everyone who caused it or found romance in the idea of leftist “Revolution”, without having lived its manifest tragedies. His greatest dream was to return to his wild home deep in the Venezuelan forest. He was an irreplaceable friend, and a creative partner to Gabriela whose loss will leave a deep chasm in our lives. The lights just went out – abruptly, violently – in our small world.