Finally, finally, finally
The ever-excellent Pliable hits the nail on the head about Gustavo Dudamel with this pithy graf:
Which stemmed from these comments:Less well received were my posts on the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela and Gustavo Dudamel. But I continue to remain uneasy about their volatile mix of musical vision, politics and commercialism, and believe that Venezuelan flags (see above via Deceptively Simple) and union jacks [...] are both out of place at the BBC Proms. Youngsters just having fun? Please tell that to the families of the millions of young people who died last century defending freedom of speech. At last the paid-for media, and some other blogs, have also started to question the link between music and politics in Venzuela. And the answers given by Dudamel certainly do not make me change my views.
Which is, itself, a quote from this article. I do take exception to a comparison between Mr. Dudamel and Wilhelm Furtwängler, the latter being one of the greatest conductors of all time and the former being a flashy kid with a good PR machine. That issue aside, I have some reservations about Mr. Dudamel and his band.
But with Venezuela fiercely polarised over the "Bolivarian revolution" spearheaded by President Hugo Chavez (above), Dudamel's de facto position as an ambassador for his country is far from easy. Since the government refused to renew the licence for RCTV, the opposition television station, earlier this year, there is increasing unease about restrictions on the freedom of expression.
Dudamel himself was criticised when he conducted the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra playing the national anthem at the launch of TVes, the state-controlled channel that replaced RCTV. One "open letter" circulated on many blogs compared him to Wilhelm Furtwängler, the conductor accused of being a Nazi supporter.
Let's face it: chavismo is, in reality, a pretty standard and pretty hardcore leftist ideology. We're not back to the Zhdanovschina or Brezhnev's neo-Stalinist regime, but President Hugo Chavez has been cracking down on freedom of expression, has given himself an Ermächtigungsgesetz and will likely increase his personal control over government institutions. In other words, the Chavez regime is trundling its way into fairly authoritarian country.
As it gets there, we must begin to ask questions of its employees - like Mr. Dudamel - and their role in Mr. Chavez' program. At what point is this just another showpiece for the revolution? When does this just become another empty agitprop statement for Bolivarianism? Granted, they can play Beethoven - and, I'm told, Mahler - pretty well. Good for them. Mr. Furtwängler's 1942 Beethoven 9th, performed by the Berliner Philharmoniker, is likely the finest reading of that work. Still, would the BP have been welcome in Los Angeles in 1942? Mr. Furtwängler?
The question is simple: do we support authoritarianism with every record, every ticket, and every endowment to pay Dudamel and his band's bills? Are we giving aid and succor to a regime that, by all accounts, should be isolated and repudiated? My frank opinion is yes. Yes, we are. "But, Smith, you tasteless cad, it's art," you say? Yes, it is. Should we bend Beethoven to the service of a showpiece ensemble for a pretty nasty regime? Should we record that? Should we pay for the privilege? "But, Smith, you right buffoon, what about that 1942 Beethoven 9th," you inquire? Obviously, Beethoven - in the hands of a genius like Mr. Furtwängler - is going to transcend any abuse we throw at him. Still, we have been down this path before. We ask these questions - of Mr. Furtwängler, Karl Böhm, Herbert von Karajan, and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (among others) - and we never seem to get anywhere. Is "Vissi d'arte" a sufficient apologia?
Is Dudamel's Trauermarsch from Mahler's 5th a broader statement? Who are we burying? Democracy? Are we helping?
I don't know.