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Classical music

Maestro Dudamel tells Venezuelan leaders enough is enough, after teenage musician’s death in protest

Echoing compatriot and fellow musician Gabriela Montero’s recent comments while in Hong Kong, classical music conductor previously close to government of Nicolas Maduro says ‘just cry of the people’ must no longer be ignored

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 May, 2017, 11:51am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 May, 2017, 11:51am

Classical music conductor Gustavo Dudamel has spoken out against the Venezuelan government he has long performed for, calling on President Nicolas Maduro to listen to protesters who have taken to the streets by the millions against his socialist government.

In an online essay entitled “I Raise My Voice”, Dudamel urged Maduro to reduce political tensions that have left 37 people dead amid daily, sometimes violent demonstrations.

“We must stop ignoring the just cry of the people suffocated by an intolerable crisis,” he said. “Democracy cannot be built to fit the needs of a particular government or otherwise it would cease to be a democracy.”

Dudamel’s rebuke followed the death of 17-year-old musician Armando Canizales during a demonstration on Wednesday. Canizales was a member of the government-financed El Sistema musical education programme that spawned Dudamel’s career and with members of which the 36-year-old conductor continues to tour with even while serving as the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s musical director. Dudamel’s essay bore Canizales’ name in a black, tombstone-like box.

The world-famous El Sistema, created more than four decades ago, is one of the rare institutions to have survived – even thrived – under the past 17 years of socialist rule. The programme connects about 400,000 mostly poor Venezuelan children with classical music and its marquee Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra, led by Dudamel, was until recently one of hottest touring ensembles in the world.

Both the conductor and orchestra are scheduled to appear in Hong Kong in November to perform the cycle of nine Beethoven symphonies in a special Hong Kong Arts Festival programme.

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Venezuelans and fellow classical music performers have blasted Dudamel in the past for being cosy with Maduro, who protesters accuse of undermining the South American country’s democracy and blame for an economic collapse that has produced soaring inflation and shortages of food and medicine.

In 2014, during a previous round of deadly anti-government unrest, Dudamel conducted a commemorative concert in downtown Caracas blocks away from where a student was killed hours earlier in clashes with security forces. A few days later, he appeared alongside Maduro at the presidential palace overlooking architectural plans for a Frank Gehry-designed concert hall being built in his honour.

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But as his homeland has spun further out of control, Dudamel – like many Venezuelan artists and celebrities who were once close to the revolution started by the late Hugo Chavez – has started taking more distance.

Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero, who is an honorary consul for Amnesty International and was recently in Hong Kong to perform, told the South China Morning Post in a video interview that Venezuela was a country that no one wanted to leave but that after Chavez came into power in 1999, the country’s political landscape began to change.

“Now it’s become such an urgently critical transitional point where people don’t even have anything to eat any more while this is a very rich country, that’s the very tragic thing about this ... the corruption is so absolutely pandemic that the corrupt are starving the country, those responsible for the demise of Venezuela are, unfortunately, in power,” said Montero, who is now based in Barcelona, Spain.

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Dudamel’s statement left no doubt that his loyalties had shifted.

“We owe our youth a hopeful world, a country where we can walk freely in dissent, in respect, in tolerance, in dialogue and in which dreams have room to build the Venezuela we all yearn for,” he wrote. “It is time to listen to the people: Enough is Enough.”