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Venezuelan conductor and Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Gustavo Dudamel has described as “heartbreaking” the cancellation of his planned tour of the United States helming Venezuela's National Youth Orchestra. “My dream to play with these wonderful young musicians cannot come true — this time,” Dudamel said on Twitter. The news comes hot on the heels of an escalating high-profile public spat between the conductor and President Maduro.
Dudamel is Venezuela’s highest profile classical musician and graduate of the famous El Sistema education programme. He also is Music Director of Venezuela’s Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra. For some years, the 36-year-old maestro – once a supporter of the current Venezuelan president – remained notoriously silent on the turbulent political situation in his homeland, drawing the ire of more vocal critics like pianist Gabriela Montero who regularly called upon him to denounce the regimes of Hugo Chávez and his anointed successor Nicolás Maduro.
In happier times. Dudamel with El Sistema founder maestro Abreu and President Maduro
Dudamel eventually broke his silence at the beginning of May, when he posted on Facebook following a month of anti-government protests. “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,” he wrote. “We must stop ignoring the just cry of the people suffocated by an intolerable crisis… For democracy to be healthy there must be true respect and understanding… I urgently call on the President of the Republic and the national government to rectify and listen to the voice of the Venezuelan people… We owe our youth a hopeful world, a country where we can walk freely in dissent, in respect, in tolerance, in dialogue and in which dreams have room to build the Venezuela we all yearn for. It is time to listen to the people: Enough is enough.”
Dudamel chose to speak out again in July in a New York Times opinion piece, lamenting the worsening political situation and attacking as undemocratic Maduro’s new constituent assembly. Since then, tensions between Venezuela and the United States have worsened following Donald Trump’s suggestion that the US president wasn’t ruling out a military option to resolve the current crisis in Latin America.
News that the tour would not go ahead followed Maduro’s comments last Friday when he appeared on State television to criticise the conductor. “May God forgive you for letting yourself be fooled,” the President said before attacking Dudamel for spending too much time abroad and forgetting his involvement in the El Sistema movement. “Welcome to politics, Gustavo Dudamel. But act with ethics, and don’t let yourself be deceived into attacking the architects of this beautiful movement of young boys and girls… I don't live abroad, true. None of us lives abroad, in Madrid or in Los Angeles. Where do we live? In Venezuela and we have to work for the Venezuelans."
Around 180 young musicians had been rehearsing for the last three months for what was billed as a four-city US tour planned to take place in September. Venezuelan media confirmed the rumoured cancellation, pointing the finger of blame at president's office, although some suggested the reason was high transportation costs and low foreign currency reserves rather than the current war of words.