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Gustavo Dudamel will conduct at Hugo Chavez’s funeral

The music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra is taking a night off during  run of John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary in order to direct the musical proceedings at the funeral of the Venezuelan president. Here is what he has just told the orchestra:


My dear friends,

As you can imagine this is a very difficult time in my country, where our president has just died.   On Friday, with the country in mourning, a state funeral has been organized, and I have been asked to return to Caracas to be a part of the ceremony.  As the music director of El Sistema and the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra, both important symbols of Venezuelan culture, I simply must return. 

Tonight, together we will premiere John’s extraordinary work.  And I will return in time to conduct the Sunday performance as well, but on Friday, I have asked our dear friend Grant Gershon to lead the performance.  I am deeply grateful to him and to you for your understanding in this unique situation.


And here’s a video update on his activities at the funeral.

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  1. Who conducted at Stalin’s funeral?

    • Timon Wapenaar says:

      Couldn’t have been anyone important: they were all at Prokofiev’s funeral, which was on the same day.

    • I couldn’t find it quickly on Google, but there are enough videos on YouTube with the historic footage of Stalin’s funeral that it should be easily found out. At any rate, Sviatoslav Richter and the Borodin Quartet were commissioned into service. I think that the pianist and eminent pedagogue (teacher of Richter and Gilels, among others), Heinrich Neuhaus, might have performed as well.

      An interesting footnote on Stalin’s funeral: Sergei Prokofiev died on the same day as Stalin in Moscow. There is a very poignant story told by Richter on the most recent DVD about his life (where he is interviewed by Bruno Monsaingeon who directed the DVD). Richter tells about going to Prokofiev’s apartment, either before or after his obligations at Stalin’s funeral, where Prokofiev’s body was still lying on his bed. The door of the apartment was ajar when he arrived, and nobody else was there. So he went in and spent a few quiet moments alone with Prokofiev’s earthly remains, paying homage to the great composer and friend of his. How very spooky!

    • Brigitte says:

      Hugo Chavez was ELECTED four times in democratic elections…it seems that Mr.Dudmel knows that, but people leaving their comments here appearantely don’t know!

  2. Daniel Farber says:

    You certainly can’t criticize GD for a lack of loyalty here. Think, however, of what a significant statement he could have made by refusing the invitation in the name of countries that live, more or less, by the rule of law. (And don’t cite the exceptions and caveats!) Of course that would mean he could never return to Venezuela with any assurance of safety. The path of least resistance is taken by most. It’s not a crime. But Camus, Koestler, Sozhenitsyn, Rostropovitch, Casals—these were exceptional human beings as well as great artists. Cortot was merely a great artist. The art jury is still out on Dudamel. On the human end, he has made his bed. It’s not reprehensible, but it is a missed opportunity: for him, for Venezuela, for people everywhere who cherish the rule of law.

    • Mark Mortimer says:

      Interesting comments Daniel. Yes, wasn’t Cortot the sort of artisitic advisor to the Vichy Government? Interesting contradiction in a man that played such a sublime Chopin and Liszt.

      • Terry van Vliet says:

        Think of Wagner, Mr Mortimer, if you wish to think of an artist of contradictions. Think, too, that Venezuela and El Sistema gave Dudamel the opportunity to become the musician he has become, whether a great artist or not. Dudamel told Norman Lebrecht in his BBC interview, as I recall, that he was not involved in politics. Perhaps his participation in Chavez’s funeral has to do with the continuation of El Sistema and the support of Venezuelan children who may, or may not, become musicians. How easy to throw stones, to show a lack of kindness–ah well.

        • Matthew B. Tepper says:

          I hope Maestro Dudamel’s first concert upon his return will consist of music of Tikhon Khrennikov and Johann Nepomuk David.

        • Jellyroll Brahms says:

          Dudamel is an outstanding person and it’s unwise to judge a man till you’ve walked in his shoes. I would ask those throwing cheap taunts at him along the “Stalin” lines to stop. In this difficult situation he is doing what he feels he must for El Sistema and the orchestras, of which, we must remember, Chavez was a very committed supporter. Who knows how the next administration will view it? It’s easy for people outside the country to pontificate. Gustavo knows what goes on in Venezuela so I, for one, will respect his decision.

          • Really grateful for your comment

          • Merci!

          • Yeah, right, don’t anyone dare have an opinion about Hugo the Autocrat if they’re not from Venezuela. They might just point out that tiny little lack of democratic outlook evidenced by Oh-but-he’s-been-so-good-to-the-poor-never-mind-the-sky-rocketing-crime-rate Hugo’s closing down of radio stations that wouldn’t distribute his televangelist messages as well as his constitution fiddling just to make sure he could stay on as caudillo forever… Lovely company you’ve been keeping, Mr Dudamel… Care to conduct at Castro’s funeral next? Or will it be Assad first? Ahmadinejad, maybe?

    • Luis Toro says:

      Orchestras in Venezuela are hostages of the Government and are required to satisfy the whims of the president under penalty of removing all economic support

    • And America follows the rule of law? Are you not aware of our President’s ability to declare American citizens enemies, detain them without trial, and even go so far as to kill them based on his own secret determinations?

      • Greg Hlatky says:

        President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009. Besides, I was informed by the bien pensants during the last presidential campaign that the only motivation for criticizing him is racism. You haven’t been near Oberlin College recently, have you? We need to check your alibi.

    • “Think, however, of what a significant statement he could have made by refusing the invitation in the name of countries that live, more or less, by the rule of law.

      And think what a statement the Venezuelan government could make by cutting funding and other support for El Sistema – or even just the Simon Bolivar Orchestra – in retaliation for a high-profile diss from Dudamel.

      Gabriela Montero could make loud protests against the Chavez government without risk to anyone but herself, because she is not the worldwide poster child for El Sistema.

      Dudamel is, and he would have put the enormous benefits that thousands and thousands of people got from El Sistema in jeopardy if he spoke out publicly against Chavez. (Don’t argue that Chavez would never have cut or eliminated El Sistema – could you really put it past him?)

      For all of you who fussed about Dudamel never taking a stand against the evil of the Chavez government, that’s surely why he didn’t. And it’s all too easy for us in more stable countries to demand that Dudamel should have the courage of our convictions.

    • If you have a country were almost everything is dependent on Oil Production, and you have to import 70% of the aliments you need, and the oil companies are not from your own country… well, you do not really have a country, and the people who live there cannot be considered really free. Well, he tried to change the economy in Venezuela, regaining the control of the State over some companies, including Oil Factories. He tried to reinforce the power of his economy and to divide more the money generated by the Oil Production. But… this is for the International Oil Lobby something unacceptable, of course. Somebody who tries to fight for his own country is a dictator. The stupid press can´t say the difference between a Libyan Dictator and a South American democratically elected president. Considered extremely well organized, the elections were always supervised by international observers. He was victim of a military coup d’état – that was really something against the democracy in his country. Do you know how it worked? They just invaded the TV Networks and said that the President was not the President anymore. The next step was to try to take Chaves physically out of the government. It is also true that Chaves also tried himself to get into the power before, but why? In a country dominated by a small Elite, Venezuela was not far from a colony. I don´t agree with Chaves and his methods, but he was somebody trying to fight against the massive attacks to the sovereignty of his country. He did not start strange wars going to the middle-east to attack a country to Oil, with the excuse that he had to fight against a Dictator that his own government and Rambo helped to put there.
      He was not a saint, he was far from a hero, and he was definitely not Bolivar Version 2.0. But he was a fighter. And I have to laugh about the American official note saying that Venezuela has to fit in real democratic elections…
      I ask you: right after a very controversial election, the former president Bush was elected. They had to recount the votes and was never clear if the result was wright or wrong, can we really say that this is democracy? In such a powerful technological country the system of voting is still primitive. In Brazil everything is electronic and hours after you can now who won what. Why US does not have such a system? In a country were lobbies are sustaining the governments, where is the real democracy?
      I am really sorry, but Maestro Dudamel is just going to conduct in his country. He is respecting the President that did not destroy El Sistema. If we have such a brilliant musician like Dudamel, thanks to Venezuela and it´s system. He is not a politician, just a musician.
      It is really hard to listen to lies in international press every single day. If there is no conscious, there is no democracy. And, in this sense, maybe there is almost no REAL democratic process.

      • Venezuela has always been a rich country due to its income from oil production. Look at the Venezuela from 20 or 30 years ago and see the growth of its middle class. Now, even the middle class has shortages of food, and electricity. Where has all the oil income gone? Not to the poor. They have just been given free gifts belonging to other citizens who had in the past contributed to the country through investments and employment. The poor have been appeased with candy instead of a meaningful education and proper housing. And yet, some see this as progress? Just look at Cuba for a mirror image of what Venezuela will become under one man’s rule. Politicians may break rules but when one man has complete control of its governing institutions and its courts, there is no law that cannot be broken without any repercussions.

        • I must respectfully disagree with many of the points you have made. Read the World Bank and UN reports.

      • Sten – Eloquently stated.

  3. Nelson Armitano says:

    You just wonder where his duties and compromises really are … Must he go? does he have a choice? .. or he just wants to be part of that never ending circus?

  4. Excellent! Good for Dudamel. The above hypocrites need to grow up.

  5. I believe that Toscanini and E Kleiber belongs on that exhaled list. Correct me if I am wrong.

  6. Iain Scott says:

    I just love these comments from the armchair observers.

  7. Wow, Hugo Chavez, Adolf Hitler, Iosef Visarionovich Djugashvili (Joseph Stalin) all in one breath. That takes a lot of self-righteous doing. Having lived through the Hitler/Stalin years, I cannot recall that their legacy included the likes of El Sistema. And I am also not so sure whether Hugo Chavez set up Venezuelan equivalents of Auschwitz and Gulag camps. Chavez will be remembered for El Sistema and an impressive track record of staring down the Seven Sisters of Big Oil and of challenging hegemonial aspirations of Washington. – Bravo, bravissimo Gustavo Dudamel.

    • So right you are.

    • To be fair, Chavez did not set up El Sistema; it was in place long before he became president.

      Chavez deserves credit only for seeing the value of El Sistema and continuing to fund it (rather than cutting or eliminating it or turning it somehow into a propaganda vehicle for him).

      • Thank you MWnyc for clarifying that Chavez did not set up El Sistema. Dudamel is in Venezuela to support Venezuelans, his people, no Chavez!

  8. Burkhard says:

    That decision certainly is his decision. But I agree that it is a serious disappointment. Obviosly the man has no guts and no back to turn down his participation in this political clownery called funeral.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      When was he last time you showed your own guts and acted heroically, Burkhard?

  9. Dudamel is a product of Chavez!

    • Dudamel IS NOT a product of Chavez, nor is the Sistema, which was established long before Chavez came to power (It just celebrated it 38th year last weekend). El sistema has been supported by the governments before Chavez, but we had not seen its effects because it had not been around long enough to create the stars we now have. We are grateful for the governments support, but it was not created by this government.

    • Burkhard says:

      I think El Sistema has been around for much longer than Chavez.

    • You have NO idea what are you talking about. Go to Venezuela, learn Dudamel’s background, inform yourself, THEN make a comment.

  10. ¡Acá te esperamos Dudamel!

  11. Petros Linardos says:

    Does anyone know whether public support of El Sistema could have anything to do with Dudamel’s appearance at Chavez’ funeral?

    • Seems obvious, no?

      • Petros Linardos says:

        So it would seem to me as an outsider. But I would hope for more informed answers from readers who *know* more.

        • Seems to me that the only person who’d really know is Dudamel himself, so we’re dependent on what he tells us. And his public statements have been (to my eye) pretty carefully worded.

  12. Mike Campbell says:

    Hugo Chavez, Undefeated
    by Derrick O’Keefe

    Hugo Chavez has died — undefeated.Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías (July 28, 1954 – March 5, 2013).

    Yes, undefeated. Chavez, no matter how many times the corporate media and the cheerleaders of the status quo call him a dictator, was elected repeatedly with overwhelming majorities.

    No matter how many times this slur is moronically or mendaciously repeated, people know the truth. No less than Jimmy Carter certified Venezuela’s elections as amongst the most fair and transparent his organization has ever observed. And the voter turnouts that elected Chavez were usually far, far higher than those in the U.S.

    The voices that cheer and mock the death of Hugo Chavez are in fact mocking democracy and the people of Venezuela, who elected him and who have re-elected him time and time again — most recently by a decisive majority in October, 2012.

    But today we need not dwell on the disgusting carnival of necrophilia with which the right-wing has followed Chavez’s illness and which will reach a crescendo in the coming days with the news of his untimely demise. This macabre celebration is only the flip side of impotence; they whoop and holler at Chavez’s death from cancer only because they failed to defeat him in life, and could not take down his government by democratic (or other) means.

    Besides, behind this grave-dancing is not just the hatred of one man who became emblematic of a continental shift to the left and away from U.S. interests and power; it also reveals the shallow indifference to human life and to democracy built into the whole system. As a friend pointed out, within minutes of announcing the news of his death, CNN was discussing the implications it might have on the markets and on the value of U.S. corporate interests in the region.

    Today, I would rather celebrate the majority of Venezuelans — especially the poor and the marginalized. It is, after all, the people who made Chavez, and not the other way around. And it is the humble people of Venezuela who saw to it that Chavez was allowed to complete this many years as president, after all.

    The rich and powerful of the world did not hate Chavez because he was a dictator… They hated him because he was symbolic of a threat to the dictatorship of Capital, a figurehead of a continent alive with social movements and millions of people conscious of their political power.

    Chavez came very close to dying much earlier — of unnatural causes. It was People Power that kept him alive and that kept his democratically elected government in power. I’m referring of course to the April 2002 coup d’etat cynically aided and abbetted by Venezuela’s rabidly right-wing media and which was issued with an immediate stamp of approval by the Bush administration.

    It’s important to remember that the traditional elite of Venezuela — the oiligarchs of this South American petrostate who ruled for decades under the ‘Washington Consensus,’ and who quashed resistance to neoliberalism in blood like during the 1989 caracazo — and their allies abroad in the U.S. government and in the corporate boardrooms of the world never intended for Hugo Chavez to live beyond those days in April 2002.

    If the people had not mobilized to restore Chavez to power 11 years ago, Latin America would be a much worse place today. The “pink tide” would likely have been largely stemmed before it had a chance to spread; transformations that have begun in Bolivia and Ecuador might never have gotten out of the gates. Who knows, the FTAA, a proposed hemispheric corporate trade deal, might have been implemented rather than soundly defeated. After all, back in 2001, when tens of thousands marched in Quebec City against the early stages of the FTAA, President Chavez was almost alone as a head of government inside the talks opposing the deal.

    Whatever the shortcomings and all the very real contradictions of Chavez’s government, the poor of Venezuela and of all Latin America are better off today in real and tangible ways because the people kept it in power.

    So let the corporate media say “good riddance!” to Chavez in their cynical way. Ignore them, and watch (or rewatch) the inspiring story of the People Power that defeated the 2002 coup, as told in the powerful Irish documentary The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. The title is a tip of the hat to Gil Scott-Heron, and it’s a reference to the key role that right-wing, private, big media played in orchestrating and manipulating events and their portrayal during the failed attempt at regime change. (Another important source of information about Venezuela is the website

    The rich and powerful of the world did not hate Chavez because he was a dictator. Deep down the sentient among them know he wasn’t.

    They hated him because he was symbolic of a threat to the dictatorship of Capital, a figurehead of a continent alive with social movements and millions of people conscious of their political power.

    • Thank you for that posting, Mike Campbell. Yes, we in America love to yap on about democracy, as long as it follows our way of thinking. Allende was elected in Chile, and we sure took care of that, didn’t we? The corporate media had plenty of lies to spread about him too. I’m aware that Chavez wasn’t exactly a great guy, but that has never stopped America from dealing with anyone, as long as there is the perception that our interests will be served. Give Dudamel a break, instead of judging him so harshly. Hypocrites!

    • Roberto S. says:

      Perhaps Mike Campbell means well, but this long apologia for a ruthless, democracy-trampling dictator should be taken with many, many grains of salt. We won’t know what was on Maestro Dudamel’s heart when he made his decision to participate in the state funeral until he speaks about it in an interview. Projecting motives onto his decision is empty speculation until he explains his decision himself. So let it be.

      In the meantime, for a nuanced and highly informative assessment of Chavez and his legacy, I recommend the following from Francisco Toro in The Atlantic. Despite the provocative headline, his assessment is not an ad hominem attack and recognizes Chavez’s significant support from Venezuela’s poorest, which have indeed been neglected for generations by the wealthy elite. None of that justifies the despot that Chavez became, however. And he certainly became a terrible one. I should know, because I was there.

      Chavez Wasn’t Just a Zany Buffoon, He Was an Oppressive Autocrat

    • Matthew B. Tepper says:

      It is not merely the “right wing” who are glad to see Chavez removed from the world stage. Some of us lefties feel that way as well.

      • Oh, really? What is the definition of a lefty? Mr. Campbell’s statement is a good one. Chavez took oil out of the hands of the elite and multinationals and used it to serve his nation’s and its people’s needs. He was acutely aware when he first took office of what U.S. imperialism had done to control Latin America’s resources through small elites who had enriched themselves at the expense of the rest of the people, the great majority of whom were poor. His achievements in reducing poverty in a significant way were huge- his programs were responsible for reducing it from over 60% to less than 30% of households, and, for extreme poverty, from 23% to 8% of the population- he had similar results in education, where, by 2010, Venezuela’s literacy rate was estimated to have exceeded 95%- as well as in health care and a safety net for the elderly, and he looked beyond his own country to help create multinational institutions and alliances in South America (and in the case of Argentina, helped bail out that country by buying $5 billion of its debt) so that his neighbors could also free themselves from US dependence and exploitation. The list goes on.

        He was vilified by the Western NATO governments, and in the mainstream media, and there are confirmed reports that the West (read CIA) sought to have him eliminated permanently, but he was wildly popular in his own country and throughout Latin America- he did, after all, win over a dozen elections while losing only one. He has been accused of being an autocratic communist, but a communist he was not, and democracy through public participation at many levels was vibrant. Apart from oil, the private sector still thrived and while the elites were deprived of their old political power, they still made money, lots of it, and they were never silenced in the press- indeed they continued to own most of it and attack Chavez without fear of retribution. The country did experience occasional electrical blackouts, but that was because the increase in consumer spending and the standard of living had for the time outstripped the expansion of the country’s energy infrastructure. Crime was a major nagging problem that the government had not solved and was still struggling with when he died. His frequent castigation of the U.S., and his warm relations with Iran, and his public criticism of Israel (though never to deny the Holocaust) were also a source of contention, and this was further aggravated whenever he would meet with Ahmedinejad and express support for Iran’s right to nuclear power for its commercial needs. Yet, it was all consistent with his anti-imperialist thinking, and was a position supported by many legal experts and former diplomats in the West, as well, as negotiations over Iran’s program and threats of war continue unabated.

        In the end, the statistics and the results themselves, and his popularity, bear out his contributions to his country and the South American continent, and how these achievements were regarded by the great majority of the people in Venezuela and Latin America; but something much more changed there, and that was the paradigm of what a government should do for its people and how it should conduct itself in world affairs with its neighbors, and the public’s acceptance of that paradigm. This is all wrapped up in what has been, and will continue to be, a larger conflict with the West over its policies of neocolonialism and a new imperialism, and the West’s citation of “democracy and human rights” to trump the UN Charter’s recognition of its member nations’ rights- e.g., a country’s recognized territorial borders, its national sovereignty, and its right to control and use its resources for its own people, and to that end to develop and apply its own political and economic systems and tools. The struggle in Latin America is not over by any means- it is only in an early stage- much of the land and resources in South America is still in the hands of foreign ownership- but it will be a measure of Chavez’s lasting success if the institutions he set up remain resilient. One thing one can count on- the West will try to reverse the almost 20 years of reform.

        For a fascinating interview with Chavez, see John Pilger’s documentary at; Some helpful statistical information may be found at:
        and also at:
        Also see the following article from the Jewish Weekly:
        and also: pepe escobar’s commentary at:

        • Greg Hlatky says:

          Several points about this. According to data from the Economic Commission Latin America and the Caribbean (, poverty in Venezuela has indeed decreased from 2002-2011 from 48.6 to 29.5 percent and extreme poverty from 22.2 to 11.7 percent. However to put this in perspective, poverty in Latin America as a whole (19 countries surveyed) has decreased from 43.9 to 29.4 percent and extreme poverty from 19.3 to 11.5 percent in the same period. In short, any reduction in poverty during the Chavez government is rather unexceptional compared to the entire region.

          What is exceptional is this. Venezuela depends on oil for about 95% of its exports and about 45% of its state revenue. However, oil production in Venezuela has declined by nearly a third from 3155 kb/day in 2002 to 2250 kb/day in 2011 ( despite total discovered reserves increasing from 100 billion barrels in 2007 ( to nearly 300 billion barrels in 2011 ( Under Chavez PDVSA, the state energy company, went from well run to badly run, with a loss of know-how and frequent refinery outages and accidents ( Chavez managed to fulfill the old joke about the Soviets taking over the Sahara and soon causing a shortage of sand.

          This isn’t just inside baseball. Venezuela and Chavez’s social programs are now so dependent on revenue from a fungible, volatile commodity. Any shock will have devastating consequences for those programs. For the last several years Venezuela has been lucky enough to offset the decline in production with higher oil prices worldwide but what about the future? The scare for Venezuela isn’t some lurid CIA coup but as investment in production falls further the US simply stops being a customer. Venezuelan crude is very heavy and difficult to refine. 40 percent of Venezuela’s exports go to US Gulf Coast refineries that can handle it, but imports by the US have fallen by more than a third in the last 15 years and look to go down further as production from Canadian tar sands increases as well as domestic production. With the reliability of Venezuelan refineries decreasing, who is going to fill the gap? The Chinese? I’d like to be a fly on the wall during those negotiations!

          • I just saw your comment and it’s great you’ve gone to some of the statistics. At this point I’ll only address your comments about poverty. I think your use of averages is fine but goes only so far and masks the real extent of Venezuela’s progress. Instead look at the country by country data from your same source, except at: Then, whether or not you adjust out those countries whose statistics measure only urban poor and indigent, you will have a better measure of how much Venezuela achieved. There is more, but that is enough for now.

            As for for the rest, I leave it to later, except to say that one of the bones of contention between Chavez and his predecessors was his insistence on cutting production to make OPEC more effective, which was very different from the prior policy of maximizing the extraction of oil, and it made a difference in the revenues earned.

            Until the next installment, Adios. (Good that you have gotten into the nitty gritty.)

  13. Vicki Randle says:

    Seriously, can’t you people even stop with the reactionary BS when it involves the head of state of Dudamel’s country of origin?
    Really, is it that difficult to be kind, or civil, or, barring that, just keeping it to yourself?

  14. Though the orchestral musicians in Caracas (some of whom I have known for 30 years) as a rule are generally in the stratum of society that did not support Chavez, and found him politically embarrassing, few if any of them would think an analogy to Stalin anything other than absurd. Ironically perhaps, most of them feel about Chavez the same way most orchestral players in the US would feel about G W Bush.

  15. Reggie Benstein says:

    I’d imagine that Mr. Dudamel’s attendance at Chavez’s funeral is much more heartfelt and sincere than a certain US president’s appearance at the recent funeral of Van Cliburn…. and as for circuses, that’s nothing new to Americans either.

  16. Karem Alsina says:

    Venezuela’s El Sistema was well in place years way before Chavez, 1975 to be exact, by Jose Antonio Abreu, an economist and musician. El Sistema has flourished now through seven different governments while educating some two million young people.

  17. You know, technically he didn’t say he is to conduct, just that he is to take “part.”

  18. Robt. Switzer says:

    I doubt that Maestro Dudamel would want to risk being forever barred from being able to conduct the Simon Bolivar Orchestra, which is what would probably happen if he turned down the invitation to conduct at the state funeral. Reading between the lines of his statement, it would appear that his commitment is to the orchestra and teaching system that gave him his career than to the late president of his country. Shame on those for making more out of his decision than there is.

  19. Musician says:

    Sadly, Chavez never saw Dudamel conduct in person.

  20. Marguerite Foxon says:

    Well, I’m disappointed in GD to think he reveres the dictator enought to do this. It’s not to do with his country, it’s an insight Ito his political position. Give me Montero any day for her gutsy stand.

    • Marguerite, as I posted above, Gabriela Montero could make loud protests against the Chavez government without risk to anyone but herself.

      She is not the worldwide poster child for El Sistema. Dudamel is, and he would have put the enormous benefits that thousands and thousands of people got from El Sistema in jeopardy if he spoke out publicly against Chavez.

      And don’t argue that Chavez would never have cut or eliminated El Sistema – could you really put it past him? And until the next election, it is still Chavez’s people running the government.

  21. Res ipsa loquitor: one does not need a close reading of GD’s short note above to see how neutral, businesslike, and efficient it is. He is “attending to business” in a responsible way that as a symbolic Venezuelan citizen he must.. The above comments are interesting, but do not address the simple clear tone of the note to the LA Philharmonic. There has been no grand gesture or other statement from Dudamel, no wail of pain or loss.

  22. How is it that we believe we understand this sitauton enough to stand in judgement of the maestro. The situation is difficult on many fronts. He’s risking a great deal. He didn’t even use the name of his country’s president in his announcement, This is about the future of his country and it’s youth. He and them represent some of the good of that country. It’s God’s place to judge Gustavo’s heart and true intentions, npt ours.. I admire him for considering the greater need above his own. Who is to say that is a weaker stance than risking loosing his citizenship and destroying El Sistema. Has anyone considered that being at this funerla is not about the person who has died but about the future?.

  23. Raldoph Hark says:

    Have any of you people just considered for a moment that Mr. Dudamel may be a Chavista? and if so why is it strange the he joins those who mourn him?

  24. Stephen says:

    All of his is way too soon. It must have been and probably still is an anguishing decision because it can be so mis-construed either way as evidence all the comments. Grief even in public with a public figure is still and always a private matter.
    Musicians almost more than anyone except maybe for poets or artists should know this.

  25. Llanero says:

    Chávez a dictator? How outrageous. Visit Venezuela and talk to ordinary Venezuelans. From my own experience, Venezuela is one of the most democratic countries I have ever experienced, including compared to the US. I recently attended a concert conducted by Dudamel in Caracas: It was free, as are most classical music concerts in Venezuela. People from all walks of life attended. Random conversations with strangers to my left and right revealed that they were very happy with their president and the political process. While El Sistema existed before Chávez, audience access to the arts has expanded significantly under the Bolivarian government. People in Venezuela speak their opinions freely, the opposition owns newspapers and TV stations which they often use to broadcast false information, and there is a very high level of public awareness and participation. Venezuelans voted on their constitution and you can find copies of it everywhere, and people refer to it in conversations about politics. Chávez is loved by most Venezuelans and the love is real. If Dudamel is concerned about conducting in countries with terrible human rights records, he should stop conducting in the US and refuse invitations to conduct in Israel.

    • Daniel Farber says:

      A lot of folks said the same thing about the USSR in the 1930′s and about Cuba in the ’60′s and about China in the ’50′s. The US was always labeled “fascist” and “imperialist”. True Belief will never die or learn.

    • Anonymous says:

      I’m sorry, but this is inaccurate. I have been to Venezuela numerous times, and I have talked to hundreds of “ordinary Venezuelans”. Every one I talk to labeled Chavez a dictator. He had sole control over the rule of law, over the media, and over the country’s finances. What else could you call that? He shut down over 30 radio stations in one year and revoked RCTV’s broadcast license. There is no free, open press to exchange ideas or question government. He could change the exchange rate to US dollars with no notice, lining his pockets but drastically reducing people’s savings once the thriving black market caught up and raised prices. He closed the currency so people didn’t have access to their money back in Venezuela when they traveled or studied abroad. This forced those who left to escape the violence of Caracas (including my current wife) to live like paupers in their new country.

      This being said, I don’t fault Dudamel for taking part in the funeral. I’m sure he’s doing it for his countrymen and to prevent a scandal involving El Sistema rather than to glorify Chavez. I know dozens of his close colleagues, and I have yet to find anyone who thinks he is a Chavista.

      • I understand what you are saying, and I don’t deny the difficulties your wife and friends encountered, e.g., in trying to repatriate their money, but Chavez’s elections were transparent and at least a few were monitored by international observers, so while your circle of friends and associates were highly critical and may have sustained losses under the Chavez regime, the elections, if they are any measure of popular sentiment, indicate that the majority of the country seemed to feel otherwise.

        You omit stating that the media in Venezuela had been highly concentrated, and in the hands of only a few families. Furthermore, as was later revealed, the media itself was complicit in the 2002 coup against Chavez, a coup triggered by the implementation of Venezuela’s new Hydrocarbons Law which increased to 30% the oil royalties payable to the government. The media were alerted in advance by the coup leaders, and then joined the coup with broadcasts of faked footage and information, e.g., that Chavez’ supporters had fired on and killed unarmed anti-government demonstrators, which was later shown to have been false. After Chavez was reinstated, the prosecutor investigating the coup was assassinated by a right wing paramilitary group which had worked closely with the CIA. So, this was not merely a case of independent media critical of the government, it was of a country that had barely survived a state of crisis in which the media itself had been part of the coup.

        Regarding RCTV, its license was not taken away- it expired and was not renewed. Given the circumstances, you think our FCC would have found that renewing the license would have been in the public interest? Maybe, maybe not. RCTV returned as a satellite channel but was removed after it was unwilling to comply with the media laws. Other private channels have remained on the air and never stopped trashing Chavez, and they have been allowed to do so, though not 24 hours a day, as there are certain hours of the day set aside for other types of programming. I don’t know about the licenses of 30 radio stations that were pulled, but if they were part of a single family or group ownership complicit in the coup, that would have been more understandable.

        We are comotose in the States about the problem of concentration of media ownership where here only a few media companies such as Viacom, Clear Channels and Disney are behemoths, and how it affects the quality of reporting. I can imagine the uproar if, in the interest of promoting competition, the FCC were to reverse itself and now break up some of the ownership in local markets.

        As for the currency issues you are correct, but, in 2003, after the failed coup, Venezuela was targeted by the money traders and investors who were moving huge amounts of currency out of the country, and the government was forced to intervene with exchange controls to limit the capital flight. These controls remained in place and were tightened in 2010.

        The reality is that unless they regulate their currency markets, developing countries will always be at the mercy of the traders and the IMF. Morever, all you have to do is look at the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990’s to see that even a country with a valuable resource base cannot survive without intervening in its markets when they are being destabilized. It is a lesson for European countries like Greece, Spain and Italy that are hemorrhaging but have been prevented by the EU and the IMF from exercising
        strong oversight, might heed.

  26. Rafael de Acha says:

    Another tempest – this time in a cup of espresso. Too much time in your hands, gentlemen! Let Dudamel do his thing as a Venezuelan and shut up already.

  27. Alvaro Mendizabal says:

    I dont usually make comments. But I’ll give it a shot.

    It must be incredibly frustrating for the oligarchy – breeding ground of classical music – to see that the biggest evolution of this art form in the last 100 years (and this is irrefutable) came from the government of Chavez. Yes, EL SISTEMA existed for the last 38 years, but DID ANYBODY HEAR ABOUT THIS INITIATIVE BEFORE?? Before the year 2000? Who financed, supported and encouraged the european tours which put this life changing program in the eyes of the world?

    Nowadays, we can all see how “El Sistema” has reshaped the classical music landscape, as almost every orchestra and concert hall under the sun is creating their own version. However, many administrators (and people in this forum) see this with reluctance, and not really convinced of El Sistema as a means towards social change and egalitarianism (thats the last thing they want), but as a quick fix to gain audiences and convince themselves that their institutions and art form still matters in the 21st century. Such level of hypocrisy is egregious.

    A couple years back a friend of mine had the great opportunity to meet Mtro. Abreu, who confirmed what many already knew: EL SISTEMA, has NOTHING to do with producing musicians, or creating audiences to “save classical music”. All those things, are by products of the real goal: social change, reduction of poverty, and egalitarianism for kids of all backgrounds, across venezuela and now around the world.

    I will not enter in other in other political arguments, as I am not nor was I a supporter of his Government but we cannot deride Dudamel for recognizing the positive things that came out of it.

    FYI: The United States just created the NYO-USA, the first youth national symphony THIS YEAR. It just never occurred to any of our elite administrators to come up with a similar initiative, for all the great things this country does have. There is no perfect system.

  28. How did this chap get in front of the VPO?

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      Normally what you do is take the stage entry at he Musikverein, go through the main changing room, head up the stairs, take a right onto the stage, make your way to the podium. I suspect that’s the route he took, too.

    • Jellyroll Brahms says:


    • Timon Wapenaar says:

      Cojones, tio. Sabes?

  29. amazing the comments… people should try this documentary ‘South of the border’ at you tube….
    Obviously, you been watching to much CNN and Fox News over here ….

  30. Florestan says:

    Yes, he conducted for Mr. Chavez, a big dictator, and was together with Mr. Ahmadineyad.

    ¡Bravo! He is friend of the enemies of USA and Israel, and lives in LA, the home of “Imperialism”
    He has a double personality, but it is not possible to be with the Revolution, like he is, and at the same time with Mickey Mouse.

  31. Musician says:

    It is true, the SISTEMA exists since 35 year, but it was very good known.
    Mr. Abreu: I think you should investigate about what he did in the pass, and you will cry…I can’t say more…
    ¿Have you ever thought what happen with the young people after been in the orchestra so many years? I live in Venezuela and I know it very good.
    Abreu is very dangerous and the history will give me the reason.

  32. It is embarrassing to see people come here and criticize Gustavo Dudamel without having the least idea of what has happened in Venezuela during the last 14 years.

    Let’s get something clear: Hugo Chávez was a corrupt and authoritarian charlatan that abused his office, bent the rules of democracy like a magician, disrespected the Constitution almost on a daily basis, and followed democracy only when it benefited him. But he was not a dictator nor a murderer, so comparing him with Stalin is simply ridiculous.

    Now let’s consider two scenarios:

    1. Gustavo Dudamel actually supports Chávez. Okay, so what? Those 8,191,132 people that voted for Chávez in the last election don’t have a right to support whatever government they like? I don’t agree with them, but I respect their right to support Chavez.

    2. Dudamel does not support Chavez, but he’d rather not put funding for El Sistema in jeopardy. In that case I think it is very noble of him to risk being associated with a government he does not support, just to protect the 400,000 children and young people in El Sistema.

  33. Steve Soderberg says:

    A response to comments (from both “sides”) on the death of Hugo Chávez and Gustavo Dudamel’s decision to attend the funeral:

    A century ago José Enrique Rodó recognized that Latin Americans were being overwhelmed by what he called “Nordomania,” the tendency to follow blindly and uncritically the North American patterns of life and thought. But his reaction (as I read it in his seminal work, Ariel (1900)) was not some sort of a Marxist turn as an economic response in opposition to capitalism — that is, a rehearsal for the Cold War that was to come 50 years later. Rodó’s response was not focused on economics per se, but on the underlying materialist applications of utilitarianism and pragmatism in Anglo America. Refusing the materialist gambit is to this day viewed by most in the West as hopelessly naive. Our arts, like everything else, have been reduced to politics by another name. The flavor of Rodó’s argument, which will seem alien to many, comes out in the following quotes from Ariel (tr. Margaret Sayers Peden)

    – [W]e must begin by recognizing that when democracy is not ennobled by an idealism equally as energetic as the society’s material concerns, it will inevitably lead to a favored status for mediocrity.

    – A civilization acquires its character not from a display of prosperity or material supremacy, but from the grandeur of thought and feeling possible within it.

    – Now that barbarism no longer unleashes its often heroic and regenerative hordes to attack the beacons of civilization, high culture must be on its guard against the mild but equally destructive effect of different peaceful, even educated, hordes: the inescapable hordes of vulgarity.

    – [G]lory is ephemeral in societies that have stifled the free development of sensibility and thought, either with mercantilism, as in Phoenicia; or war, as in Sparta; or mysticism, as during the terror of millenarianism; or the salon, as in eighteenth-century France.

    – The stupefaction of the savage, when confronted with the tools and products of civilization, is no greater than the amazement of a relatively larger number of cultivated men when they witness behavior that gives serious weight to what is beautiful in life.

    – Never forget that an educated sense of the beautiful is the most effective collaborator in the formation of a delicate sensitivity for justice.

    – A person gifted with an instinctive love of beauty undoubtedly suffers a certain mortification in having to defend his instinct through a series of arguments grounded in a principle other than the independent and selfless love for beauty that is one of the bases of rational existence. Unfortunately, higher principles do not always triumph in the case of large numbers of individuals who must be taught the respect due the love in which they do not share, and who must be shown its relationship with other human interests.

    – The concept that rational life is based on the free and harmonious evolution of our nature — and therefore includes among its primary aspirations the satisfaction that derives from contemplation of the beautiful — is opposed as a code of conduct by utilitarianism, in which our every action is determined by the immediate ends of self-interest.

    – Any of the qualities of a civilization that lie beyond material success and economic prosperity constitute an eminence that will be razed quickly when the prevailing morality is one of mediocrity.

    – Rationally conceived, democracy always includes an indispensible element of aristocracy, a means of establishing the superiority of the finest, achieved through free consent. A democracy, like an aristocracy, will recognize the distinction of quality; but it will favor truly superior qualities — those of virtue, character, and mind — and will not attempt to immobilize them in a class system that maintains the execrable privilege of caste.

    • Wonderful quotes from an author I must read.
      Two comments:

      As for musical examples, i suggest the contrast between the perverse mediocrity of the current New York Philharmonic, And
      The noble aspiration and incomparable ensemble of The Vienna Philharmonic (it’s soon to be “exposed” history notwithstanding).

      On the effects of democracy on culture, DeToqueville seems to be in direct opposition to the last comments of Roda, quoted above-”The most common demoninator-currently hip hop and rap.”

  34. Vicente Olivo says:

    ¿Cómo puede el señor de León decir esto? “Hugo Chávez was a corrupt and authoritarian charlatan that abused his office, bent the rules of democracy like a magician, disrespected the Constitution almost on a daily basis, and followed democracy only when it benefited him. But he was not a dictator”. Es tan absurdo y paradójico.
    Por otra parte el señor de León dispensa las veleidades de un artista, porque supone que se sacrifica por 400.000 niños, sin pensar que esa juventud está siendo sacrificada por satisfacer egos propios, por ejemplo, el del señor Abreu.
    Es igualmente una inmensa paradoja ser el director musical de un montón de niños, y compartir banco y llanto con M. Ahmanideyad, instructor de los Basij, como seguramente el señor León debe saber. Es decir, un ejército de jóvenes que eran obligados a barrer los campos minados, bajo promesa de alcanzar absurdos paraísos.
    No señor León, un artista grande debe saber con quién se la juega. Ya está bien de banderita tricolor, todo la música es amor, y demás tonterías panfletarias, se puede ser director de lo que sea, sin perder la dignidad.

    Aprocecho para decirle que he leído varios artículos en su blog. Enhorabuena, escribe usted muy bien.


    • Mr Olivo, allow me to respond in English as that is the language spoken by most of this website’s audience. I do not think it paradoxical or absurd to say Hugo Chavez was not a dictator nor a murderer despite how smartly he manipulated the rules of democracy. Hugo Chavez has not murdered anyone, directly or indirectly. Chavez was elected and reelected by a majority, and no international observers nor the Venezuelan opposition parties have ever objected to a result or provided proof of a fraud. If you can compare him with Stalin, you surely know nothing about Stalin.

      And if you can honestly say that the 400,000 or su children and young people that are part of El Sistema “are being sacrificed for Abreu’s ego” then you have absolutely no understanding of how El Sistema has enriched and positively transformed their lives. I invite you to go to a nucleo, look some of the children’s parents in the eye, and explain to them how their children are being sacrificed and how they would be better off staying at home watching television or getting into crime.

  35. Vicente Olivo says:

    2012 21.692 Venezuelans R.I.P, Mr. de León.

    I know the Sistema very well and this is not the appropriate place to make a debate about it. I remember the eyes of a group of young musicians who in tears, told me very sad histories about the Sistema . It is a very complex item, Mr. de León, very complex.

  36. Vicente Olivo says:

    and you say nothin about M. Ahmanidejad? ¿Why?¿ Ideological dicipline or sympathy, Mr de León?

    • I say nothing about Ahmadinejad because I know nothing about him, and I believe in only expressing an opinion when I know what I am talking about. Maybe Ahmadinejad is the devil or maybe he is a saint or maybe he is just plain human. I don’t know, so I don’t speak about him.

      It is interesting that you say this isn’t the appropriate place to have a debate about El Sistema, but it still is right for you to launch attacks against Abreu and Dudamel? So basically what you are saying is that people should just shut up and let you attack them, without any debate.

      Well I won’t. I have worked with children from the barrios of Caracas to the less populated villages in Amazonas or Bolivar. I have spoken to their parents and teachers. I know the positive effect El Sistema has on all of them, including the vast majority that do not go on to become musicians, but still receive an education that helps them achieve better lives.

  37. William M. says:

    Chavez was a dictator, pure and simple. He never would have relinquished power had he lived. He destroyed the free press in Venezuela and intimidated his enemies judicially and confiscated their assets, and his brownshirts attacked supporters of his opponents in public space with impunity. He fomented revolution in Colombia by supporting FARC and other brutal insurgent thugs. You are REQUIRED to vote in Venezuela and are digitally identified by your thumbprint. The left has learned to use democracy and free-market technology to eventually identify, isolate, and crush opposition. Their elections are not free, and one’s vote is not private. He has used public money to buy votes, and in the process distorted markets, causing inflation and shortages of basic goods. He demonized the producing class causing many to flee, which will ultimately hurt the people he claimed to care about. The worst form of elitism exists in this type of “government” where the friends of the regime at the top are rewarded handsomely, and the lower classes are what the marxists call “useful idiots”…Dudamel is a fool, or shall I say a tool, and we’re next. 50 Miilion Americans on food stamps/SNAP isn’t compassion…it’s economic failure. We’re at a tipping point in our country where the those accepting government assistance outnumber the producers. If all that government spending and largesse were the key to success, then Greece would be the economic powerhouse of Europe…54% of those working in Greece work for the government….and it’s on the verge of collapse. Wake up people!! And stop lionizing thugs!!

    • Daniel Farber says:

      Bravo, William! Sidney Hook couldn’t have put it better.

      • Or, Karl Rove on Fox News. You’ve said a mouthful, but when it is deconstructed sentence by sentence it is less credible and edible than what it purports to be.

        • Daniel Farber says:

          Slandering the dead has always been the last refuge of the intellectually dishonest. Poor Sidney Hook, a vigorous anti-totalitarian democratic socialist for his entire adult life, would have been horrified to be put in the same sentence with the likes of Karl Rove and Fox News.

          • With regard to the post you lauded citing the late Sidney (who is now the darling of the neocons), let’s remain intellectually honest. The statements made by William M, their implied connections, and lack of context
            don’t add up to a realistic narrative, even if bits and pieces may have some measure of truth. As for Hook, it’s one thing to have been anti-Stalin, another to have supported the McCarthy witch hunts and its stripping of civil liberties in the name of academic and democratic freedom.

          • Daniel Farber says:

            Yes, “let’s”. Sidney Hook never “supported the McCarthy witch-hunts. He wrote a great deal about these. Anyone who uses the word, “support,” to describe Hook’s position either cannot read relatively nuanced essays with open-minded understanding or else has read only what other people have to say about them.

          • Nuanced?? I’m not in an argumentative mood, but you simply must familiarize yourself with the academic freedom cases and his stated position on them. Hook was no hero in that dark part of our history;

          • Daniel Farber says:

            Your “mood” is of interest only to yourself. Have you read Heresy Yes, Conspiracy No? If you have, you have not been able to understand it. If you have not, you should not be making an ad hominum attack on Sidney Hook. “Let’s” indeed!

  38. As an example, read the Slochower v. Board of Higher Education of New York City, 350 U.S. 551, and Hook’s position and commentary on it. There are a number of others. (That specific one was a 5th/14th Amendment case.) I certainly wouldn’t disagree with Hook’s anti-Stalinism, but there are other aspects to his social philosophy which when applied were contradictory and worse, and had unjust consequences for serious academics, including firing and blacklisting. You might also look at his full debate with the civil libertarian Alexander Meiklejohn on academic freedom published in the New York Times. (You cited the third one of these articles.) Be aware that it is not only the words, but their application and how one justifies the result that gives it its meaning, good or bad. As for the 1950 article you cited, the Slochower case was decided later, so I think it is important to read Hook’s commentary on that one as well.

    It’s good that you are so interested, and are so articulate and passionate about it all, but if you want to delve further into that period and the academic freedom cases, I would be happy to give you more citations and refer you to some fine civil liberties attorneys in NYC who are well versed with these issues, though you can also do that on your own. One good book that was just published is: “Priests of Our Democracy- The Supreme Court, Academic Freedom and the Anti-Communist Purge” by Marjorie Heins (NYU Press, 2013). (Hook taught at NYU.) I believe that Heins was a formerly a civil liberties attorney with the NYCLU. She now heads up the Free Expression Policy Project. (You could always follow up there, and even email her from her website, )

    The shame of it is that since 9/11 some of the same problems have resurfaced, and we are now living with a judicial system that is not so ready to deal with it; and, of course, the irony of our dialogue is that it all began with what some might have considered an ad hominem attack or mischaracterization (sic. demonization) of Hugo Chavez.

    Maybe, let’s consider moving on before we dedicate our lives and too much more precious time to this.

    By the way, what are your thoughts about the Hungarian Constitution? (Another interesting one to study.)

  39. Greg Hlatky says:

    If you’re asking why someone of such meagre prior accomplishments won such a prestigious honor, you’ll have to ask the Nobel Foundation. If you’re asking why the incumbent is continuing the policies of his predecessor, you’ll have to ask him since they are within the ambit of his power as commander-in-chief.

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