Hong Kong Arts Festival

Gustavo Dudamel’s Hong Kong concerts cancelled as Venezuelan government axes orchestra’s Asian tour

Superstar conductor asks ‘friends in Taiwan, Guangzhou and Hong Kong for understanding’ after scrapping of Beethoven symphonic cycle concerts; tour is second by Venezuelan orchestra that Nicolas Maduro government has blocked

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 October, 2017, 12:08pm
UPDATED : Friday, 13 October, 2017, 11:09pm

The Venezuelan government has abruptly cancelled the Asian tour of the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela three weeks ahead of its sold-out concerts in Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong Arts Festival and the Hong Kong Jockey Club, co-presenters of the five concerts in November, were directly notified and announced the cancellations on Friday.

Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel on Thursday announced the news on social media, calling it a “very sad, painful moment for me, for the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, and for my country”. He also tweeted a message to his Asia fans: “To our friends in Taiwan, Guangzhou and Hong Kong, thank you for your understanding and support.”

The orchestra was going to play the cycle of nine Beethoven symphonies from November 2-6 in concerts at Tsuen Wan Town Hall and the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, as part of a tour that includes Taiwan and Guangzhou. The concerts, led by one of classical music’s biggest stars, would have been one of the cultural highlights of the year for Hong Kong.

Elaine Kwok, a lecturer at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, was among many music lovers in the city disappointed by the news on Friday. She said her “heart had been broken twice over”.

“First, I was disappointed I couldn’t get tickets for the concerts but thought it was better than nothing that I managed to get a seat for the open rehearsal on November 4. And now they are not coming at all. I am devastated,” she said.

The 36-year-old maestro made his Asian debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic during the Hong Kong Arts Festival in March 2015. This is the second international concert tour by Venezuela’s flagship national orchestra to have been scrapped since Dudamel began criticising the government of President Nicolas Maduro this summer.

Following Thursday’s announcement, the conductor tweeted: ““I shall continue defending freedom of expression + values of just society. Music shall forever nourish our dreams of better days to come.”

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

The South American country has been in crisis since the Maduro regime held an election in July that was widely criticised as rigged, and conducted a brutal crackdown on opposition leaders and protesters. Dudamel issued a statement in May saying “enough is enough” after an 18-year-old violinist, Armando Cañizales, was shot dead in an anti-government protest. He was a member of the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra.

The conductor also wrote opinion pieces in The New York Times and the Spanish newspaper El País criticising the president. That prompted an angry reaction from Maduro, who cancelled the orchestra’s September tour of the United States and said: “Welcome to politics, Gustavo Dudamel.”

Dudamel, music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, is the South American country’s most famous cultural personality and the public face of the country’s unique music training programme for disadvantaged young people, called El Sistema.