The 5/4/2017 edition of NPR published an article by Anastasia Tsioulcas that reports Conductor Gustavo Dudamel decision to take a public position on the recent unrest in his native country, Venezuela.
In his letter, Dudamel calls on government leaders to cease acts of repression and the cycle of increasing violence that recently resulted in the death of a violinist and aspiring medical professional.
My entire life has been devoted to music and art as a way of transforming societies. I raise my voice against violence. I raise my voice against any form of repression. Nothing justifies bloodshed. We must stop ignoring the just cry of the people suffocated by an intolerable crisis.
The full letter in both Spanish and English is available at Tsioulcas’ article.
On 5/9/2017, CNN published video of a man playing the Venezuelan national anthem on violin. He was standing and playing at the vanguard of a demonstration marked by exchanges of tear gas and Molotov cocktails between protesters and government troops.
Iván Ernesto Reyes, a video journalist for Efecto Cocuyo, a Venezuelan independent media outlet, captured the moment on video.
When Reyes first heard the sounds of a violin, he thought the music was being played on speakers, he said. “We turned and looked, and saw this kid.”
Reyes lost sight of the violinist in the crowd, only to spot him again about half an hour later.
“And there he was, standing, playing the Venezuelan anthem, and with a couple of kids that were around him, sort of protecting him,” Reyes said.
He posted the footage of the musician on Twitter, saying “Today I witnessed a true example of magical realism. A protester played his violin while the (national guards) threw teargas and pellets.”
“There were bombs, teargas and repression, but he kept playing his violin. He did not stop,” Reyes said. “Too bad I wasn’t able to speak with him because he was constantly playing.”
Classical music plays an unusually strong role inside Venezuela and it should come as no surprise to see its citizens turn to it as a tool for expressing public unrest.
The young violinist who lost his life was part of the country’s world renowned El Sistema program.
Thanks to an invitation from conductor Ben Zander to join him and the New England Conservatory Youth Philharmonic Orchestra on a tour of Venezuela, I was fortunate enough to experience El Sistema back in 2005 prior to it becoming a globally recognized program.
In retrospect, the amount of time and level of access to the program’s founder José Antonio Abreu was a luxury and it was obvious even then that he was adept at navigating rocky political waters to keep the program funded without being subservient. The trip ultimately produced a quartet of detailed articles chronicling the program and its leaders (an interview with Abreu is included in Part 2).
It’s disheartening to see events unfold the way they are throughout Venezuela, but it isn’t the least bit surprising to see those involved with El Sistema speak up with such a clear voice. Undoubtedly, El Sistema’s faculty, students, and supporters will continue to play just as active a role in healing and rebuilding as it is during this period of change.