In Venezuela, a Conductor's Lack of Political Opinion Hits a Sour Note in Some Circles


Gustavo Dudamel. Image taken from Wikimedia Commons, of the Public Domain.

Can art really be apolitical? Many from Venezuelan social media claim that these two elements cannot be divided. The political conflict in Venezuela also branches out into the world of the arts and its representatives. Among the discussions surrounding what is democratic, moral and civil, a vision about the duties of the artists within the division that defines contemporary Venezuela has also crept in. And it is from this discussion that Gustavo Dudamel, the internationally renowned orchestra conductor, has received criticism from those who oppose Chavism.

Dudamel rose to fame and appreciation inside and outside of the country not only for his artistic reputation, but also for the social project known as El Sistema. This project, which has inspired several replicas in a number of countries, seeks to give young people and disadvantaged children the growth opportunities that music studies afford.

However, the support that the main representatives of El Sistema and its orchestras have exchanged with the government of Chávez and Nicolás Maduro have made him the target of harsh attacks from the public and other artists. That is what pianist Gabriela Montero, herself an international success, expressed; she has made declarations, been involved in concerts and composed pieces that highlight human rights violations in Venezuela, and the economic and social crisis that has worsened in recent years.

This dispute is not new, but has been reignited on social media over the last few days. Gabriela Montero had already written an open letter condemning Dudamel's links with Nicolás Maduro's government in 2014. However, it is because of the end-of-year concert in Vienna that posts have been shared on Venezuelan social media in recent days strongly condemning the “apolitical” position that Dudamel insists on when he is asked about the situation in his country. Toto Aguerreve responded to this through the local newspaper, “El Impulso”:

Nadie puede realmente levantar una batuta de esperanza cuando su música es escuchada en cadena nacional y creer que eso es libertad. Nadie que produzca una nota tan espectacular puede pretender que su silencio sea opacado. ‘No confundan mi falta de postura política con falta de compasión o ideales’, dice al final de su texto. No creo que sea falta de compasión o ideales. Con toda sinceridad, yo creo que más bien es falta de bolas.

No one can really raise a baton of hope when his music is being listened to on national television and believe that this is freedom. No one who produces such a spectacular score can expect his silence to be overshadowed. ‘Do not confuse my lack of a political stance with a lack of compassion or ideals’, he says at the end of his text. I don't think that it is a lack of compassion or ideals. With all sincerity, I think it's more likely a lack of guts.

And in the same way, these were added on social media:

In the image: The child says, ‘There's no medicine, no food.’ Dudamel says, ‘This music is not letting me hear anything.’ In the tweet: Gustavo Dudamel prefers not to talk about Venezuela, I'll choose not to listen to Dudamel. Fame is leading this young man to damnation.

Hundreds of prisoners for expressing an opinion and Dudamel says that he doesn't have an opinion about those who are prisoners for having an opinion.

Rights, not obligations

Other impressions have been shared trying to analyse the criticism and the situation. From the website Prodavinci, Fernando Mires takes a trip through other historic scenarios in which intellectuals and artists took a stance in situations of political division, and underlined the background of much of the debate and criticism against Dudamel:

Adonde vaya Dudamel será visto como embajador artístico, no de un gobierno, sino de una nación. Gracias a Dudamel muchos amantes de la música se han enterado de que Venezuela no solo produce petróleo, reinas de belleza y militares corruptos. Quieran o no, los venezolanos, no solo los chavistas, tienen una deuda con Gustavo Dudamel.

Wherever Dudamel goes, he will be seen as an artistic ambassador, not of a government, but of a nation. Thanks to Dudamel many music lovers have learned that Venezuela does not only produce oil, beauty queens and corrupt servicemen. Whether they like it or not, the Venezuelans, not just Chávez supporters, are indebted to Gustavo Dudamel.

He continues:

[…] Hay también grandes músicos que como ciudadanos toman opciones políticas y en algunas ocasiones ponen sus talentos al servicio de una causa […] Es su derecho, pero no es su obligación. Del mismo modo, la venezolana Gabriela Montero, pianista de reconocimiento internacional, ha llegado a componer piezas musicales a favor de una Venezuela democrática. […] Y mientras alguien cumpla con las leyes y normas de un derecho universal que garantiza tanto la libertad de opinión como la libertad de no opinar, ni Montero ni Dudamel pueden ser objetados.

El autor de estas líneas comparte la opción política de Montero y a la vez acepta la opción de Dudamel. Pues compartir y aceptar son cosas diferentes. No hay ley moral o jurídica que obligue a los artistas a tomar o a no tomar decisiones políticas. Gracias a Dios. De ahí mi absoluta incomprensión frente a esos sectores afiebrados de la opinión pública venezolana que, al enjuiciar a Dudamel, se dejan regir por el lema totalitario: ‘O estás a favor o en contra de nosotros.’ En nombre de su oposición al chavismo esos sectores han hecho suya la lógica del chavismo.

[…] There are also great musicians who as citizens take political stances and in certain cases put their talents to the service of a cause […] It is his right, but not his obligation. In the same way, the Venezuelan Gabriela Montero, internationally recognised pianist, has come to compose musical pieces in favour of a democratic Venezuela . […] And while someone abides by laws and regulations of a universal right that guarantees the freedom of expressing an opinion just as much as the freedom of not expressing an opinion, neither Montero nor Dudamel can be contested.

The author of these lines shares the political stance of Montero and at the same time accepts the stance of Dudamel. For sharing and accepting are two different things. There is no moral law or legislation that compels artists to make or not to make political decisions. Thank the Lord. Hence my absolute lack of understanding faced with these feverish sectors of Venezuelan public opinion that, by prosecuting Dudamel, let themselves be governed by the totalitarian motto: ‘You're either with us or against us.’ For the sake of their opposition to Chavism, these sectors have aligned themselves with Chavism logic.

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