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):

Classical music: Can the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America and its inaugural tour — with American superstar violinist Joshua Bell and Russian conductor Valery Gergiev — help revive classical music in the U.S. and build bigger audiences of young people? Check it out.

July 21, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

By now, many of us in this country and around the world have heard about “el sistema,” the pioneering music education movement for young people in Venezuela that gave us the superstar young conductor Gustavo Dudamel (below) who learned his art with the Simon Bolivar Orchestra, which he still conducts and records with when he isn’t with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.


Closer to home, I have often written about my admiration for the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) in Madison and their 96-year-old founder Marvin Rabin as well as their enthusiastic and cheering audiences.

But it seems that music education for young people has taken a gigantic leap forward with the National Symphony Orchestra of the United States of America (below, seen rehearsing) that draws its play from around the nation.

It was created by and is sponsored by the Weill Music Institute of Carnegie Hall – some pedigree, no? (Unfortunately, I can’t find a list of possible Wisconsin participants. If you know of any please let me and the other readers now.) Below is a photo, from Carnegie Hall, of some of the 120 players chosen from more than 100 cities in 42 states, entering their first rehearsal with a great NYO-USA poster in red, white and blue. (For more information, look at the YouTube video at the bottom.)


It performs in major halls, including Carnegie Hall, and has launched a tour with the American superstar violinist Joshua Bell (below top, who is also now the concertmaster and conductor of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields) and the acclaimed Russian conductor Valery Gergiev (below bottom). Plus the ambitious program suitably featured major  Russian works, Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto and Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 plus a new commissioned work from the young American composer Sean Shepherd that paid homage to Russian composers.

joshua Bell

Gergievin NY

That such big names are willing to participate in this project tells you something important about it and its future.

If you haven’t heard about it – and I have seen precious little about it in the mainstream media except for PBS, NPR and The New York Times, it is time to catch up.

So here some links to help you earn about what seems like such a promising event that some observers say it has the potential to revitalize the classical music scene in the U.S.

Here is a link to its home website at Carnegie Hall with a lot of photos (below is one of the group rehearsing by Chris Lee of The New York Times):


Here is a link to a great background or set-up story on NPR:

National Youth Orchestra with Valeyr Gergiev CR Karsten Moran of NYTimes PURCHASE1-articleLarge

And here is a rave review from Anthony Tommasini in The New York Times of the orchestra’s first performance of its first historic tour:

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