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February 28, 2014

Must Dudamel speak out?

In today's Wall Street Journal "Sightings" column I offer my thoughts on the continued silence of Gustavo Dudamel and Valery Gergiev regarding human-rights abuses in their native lands. Here's an excerpt.

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h0-gustavo-dudamel.jpgGustavo Dudamel, the 33-year-old Venezuelan conductor who is music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, is also a loyal alumnus of El Sistema, Venezuela's much-admired public music-education program. He continues to support El Sistema and to lead concerts by government-funded youth orchestras--and declines to criticize the repressive policies of Nicolás Maduro, the country's autocratic president, which have led to public protests that are being suppressed violently.

"I'm a musician," Mr. Dudamel has explained. "If I were a politician, I would act as a politician for my own interest. But I'm an artist, and an artist should act for everybody....I cannot allow El Sistema to become a casualty of politics. Regardless of political or public pressure, I will continue this work in Venezuela and throughout the world."

If his response has a familiar ring, it's because you've heard similar words from another internationally famous conductor, Russia's Valery Gergiev. Mr. Gergiev, who is a longtime supporter of the thuggish Vladimir Putin regime, is being harshly criticized by colleagues for not speaking out against Mr. Putin's anti-gay policies. His response? "It is wrong to suggest that I have ever supported anti-gay legislation and in all my work I have upheld equal rights for all people. I am an artist and have for over three decades worked with tens of thousands of people and many of them are indeed my friends."

Are either of those slippery statements good enough? And do artists have a responsibility to protest against moral injustice?

Let's start with what ought to be a given: No artist is obliged to create political art, however worthy the cause. To do so is to run the risk of undermining the seriousness of his art by enlisting it in the service of propaganda. On the other hand, every artist is subject to the same moral obligations as his fellow men. Even a genius has no right to shrug off the universal claims of common decency--and it's no secret that great artists as a group have an unfortunate way of doing whatever they think will best serve their own purposes....

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Read the whole thing here.

Posted February 28, 2014 10:00 AM

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