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Gustavo Dudamel challenges two media truths

It is a truth universally held by media controllers that classical music is a minority interest and talent shows are good for music. In the Lebrecht interview last night, Gustavo Dudamel exploded both of those assumptions.

The conductor, who has played in el sistema since he was eight years old, brought evidence of how children from the poorest backgrounds are attracted to the discipline of playing an instrument and use it to infuse pride in their families and communities – whether in his native Venezuela, his workplace Los Angeles or a forsaken housing estate in Scotland.

‘They get a position in society,’ he explained. ‘With music, particularly with disadvantaged people, with people who don’t have access to things, to be rich in your soul, in your mind, you change that conception of poorness. They bring pride to their families, their community. Their ambition changes completely.’

The reverse effect, in his view, is the instant fame offered to the disadvantaged by television talent shows, an offer that flatters to deceive and is actively harmful in social terms. Talent shows, says Gustavo, are not helpful to society.

You can hear the full Lebrecht Interview on the BBC iPlayer for the next seven days.


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  1. Peter Freeman says:

    It was a brilliant interview, with only one interruption, unlike most interviews these days.

  2. If you can’t measure it, bank it, hoard it, or sell it to the mass media, it’s never going to be considered ‘worthy’ in this world particularly in tough economic times.

    He should be going after the people IN the business who are constantly chasing after money at the expense of art, not the media.

    Oops, wait a minute, that hits a little too close to home for Gustavo.

    Guess that won’t be happening anytime soon.

  3. I absolutely agree that talent shows are good for music, but I also agree that classical music absolutely is a minority interest (at least in the US). Look at who attends classical concerts, there is mostly just one demographic. Look at the Billboard charts, at iTunes sales, at popular culture. Poor children “attracted to the discipline of playing an instrument” is not a measure of the global popularity of classical music.

    • Well done, Jake.
      You well and truly missed — or failed to understand — every single point that Dudamel made in the interview.
      Try listening to what he’s saying, not what you think or want him to be saying, next time.

  4. Helena Lima says:

    Dudamel is absolutely right. I’m one of the responsables of the developement of a portuguese project inspired in El Sistema and we are moving about 1000 children from disable social contexts and their families in concerts of classical music, where the children are the musicians, involved in a symphonic orchestra. Last Sunday, 15th July, we had around 250 children playing the Prelude of Te Deum (Charpentier), Farandole (Bizet), Pomp and circunstance (Elgar) from an enthusiastic public, special families from the kids, who normaly don’t go to classical music concerts, and they just loved it. They have also assist to a 90 children most developed orchestra, also from the same project, who played Radetzky March (like in the New Year Vienna Philarmonic concert), Symphonic Ouverture (a difficult peace from Jolly Braga Santos, one of the best portuguese composers) and Halleluya form Messias (Handel). The children are absolutely happy with the music they are playing and the parents are proud of his children. In the 20th May we had 289 children from the project and 50 parents assisting to the concert of the Young Symphonic Orchestra form Caracas (El Sistema also) – they have play two symphonies – one form Saint Saens the other from Shostakovitch, at the Gulbenkian Foundation. In the public where also the “habitués” – classical musica fans, aged around 50 and 70′s… years old, and they are absolutely atonished with the inusual people of this concert, they are absolutely surprised with the attention they had all concert, the interest, the enthusiasm, the behaviour. Classical music is not to minorities. If you alowed people to get in touch with this musical genre, if you alowed them to performed this kind of music then you’ll have a public. The problem it is if you only give to the people “junk food” … Sorry about my english.

  5. A wonderful interview, many thanks. I have just started to write up some thoughts on El Sistema and Gustavo on my blog, too important not to be discussed further! Thanks, again, for delving deep into the enigma and extracting such inspiring thoughts.

    Peter B

an ArtsJournal blog