The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Art and politics continue to clash as Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro cancels the U.S. tour by that country’s youth orchestra with superstar maestro Gustavo Dudamel

August 26, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

In the Age of Trump, art and politics continue to increasingly mix and do battle.

One of the latest developments is the decision by President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump not to attend the Kennedy Center Honors – in order, they say, not to disrupt the awards ceremony with politics.

The move came after several recipients protested Trump and his policies.

But Trump’s America isn’t the only place such conflicts between art and politics are happening.

Take the case of superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel (below, rehearsing the youth orchestra in a photo by Getty Images).

Dudamel was trained in the El Sistema program for youth music education and eventually led the Simon Bolivar National Youth Orchestra of his native country Venezuela before becoming the acclaimed music director and conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where he still pioneers music education for poor youth.

For a while, Dudamel’s critics protested his unwillingness go speak out about serious problems in his native country. (Below, you can hear Dudamel and the orchestra opening last season at Carnegie Hall.)

But recently Dudamel spoke out against the abuses of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who, amid many crises, has taken steps to consolidate his power as a dictator.

As retaliation, Maduro (below) cancelled a four-city tour of the U.S. by Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar National Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, although some of Maduro’s defenders cite the country’s dire financial situation.

Here is the story that appeared on the Deceptive Cadence blog by National Public Radio (NPR):

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2017/08/21/545070643/venezuelan-president-cancels-gustavo-dudamel-s-american-tour


Classical music enters controversial politics in some unexpected ways through Republican blowhard Newt Gingrich, leftist Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and Russian strongman Vladimir Putin.

February 25, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Well, it is just a few weeks or more before a lot of some major political events, all of them quite polarizing, contentious and controversial, get decided.

And curiously enough, classical music – which is normally left out of such major social events and political discussions – seems to be playing an important role right now.

In the US, for example, the Republican presidential primary (see the candidates, below, in a CNN South Carolina debate) turns this week to Arizona and Michigan, then moves on to Super Tuesday.

Then of course there is the reelection campaign of populist but controversial Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez (below).

And then there is the upcoming election in Russia where Vladimir Putin (below, riding brazenly beefcake and defiantly  bare-chested) – often accused making his opponents “disappear” — hopes to return as President.

Of course music creeps into politics now and then. Recently, President Obama made headlines and videos that went viral when he crooned a few bars of Al Green and then later some blues with B.B. King and Rolling Stone Mick Jagger.

But classical music and opera?

How do they figure all of a sudden in politics?

Could it be because so many of these extremist-type candidates turn to something more artistically traditional for validation and mainstream cultural acceptance?

Here are some stories to consider:

Mr. Blowhard Speaker Newt Gingrich isn’t doing very well in the polls and primaries. But his former aide, mistress and now third wife, Callista (below), is using music education as the theme she says she would champion as First Lady the same way that Michelle Obama is promoting healthy food and fighting childhood obesity:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/callista-gingrich-promotes-youth-music-programs/2011/12/29/gIQAgVBPOP_video.html

Hugo Chavez is so anxious to have good press to retain almost dictatorial power that he is willing to co-opt the superb music education program in Venezuela – the same “el sistema” that brought us superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel (seen below with Chavez) and the system’s famous founder Juan Antonio Abreu – and thereby to neutralize opposition from all the grateful young performers and audiences who benefit from the system he didn’t even start.

Here is a great New York Times story about him and them:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/18/arts/music/venezuelans-criticize-hugo-chavezs-support-of-el-sistema.html

And here is a backgrounder about the success of El Sistema and the loyalty it inspire among its participants:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/16/arts/music/el-sistema-venezuelas-plan-to-help-children-through-music.html?pagewanted=all

And then there are the mass demonstrations against former Russian president and KGB secret police agent Vladimir Putin, who seems about to pull off a shady return to power. But that doesn’t seem to prevent him from getting endorsements from some pretty big classical music stars including conductor Valery Gergiev (below top, shaking Putin hand at the recent Tchaikovsky competition) and sexy opera diva soprano Anna Netrebko (below bottom with Putin), who denies rumors that she had an affair with Putin (how operatic that would be!):

http://anna-netrebko.blogspot.com/2012/02/anna-netrebko-and-valery-gergiev.html

For background, try this:

http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2011/09/25/anna-netrebko-opera-diva-to-die-for.html

I’ll bet there is more as elections draw closer and the American Presidential Election draws closer.

Do you have any more tips or ideas, suggestions or comments about music and current politics here or elsewhere?

The Ear wants to hear.


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