The civil unrest that has gripped Venezuela this month has swept up one of the country's key cultural figures -- Gustavo Dudamel, the renowned conductor and music director of the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
There have been calls in recent days for Dudamel to speak out against Venezuela's hard-line President Nicolas Maduro for cracking down on political dissenters who have taken to the streets in protest of the country's worsening economic and social conditions.
Maduro has been widely criticized for his handling of the crisis, which has paralyzed the country for weeks and has resulted in several casualties as armed forces have confronted the demonstrators.
Dudamel has taken a resolutely apolitical approach in recent days, telling The Times in an interview last week that he is "simply a musician. If I were a politician, I would act as a politician for my own interest. But I'm an artist, and an artist should act for everybody."
But not everyone is satisfied with Dudamel's response. "This isn’t just evasive, this is pure, copper-bottomed nonsense," wrote Telegraph music critic Ivan Hewett in an opinion piece published Monday.
"There are rumours that in private he's a stout defender of [Hugo] Chavez's and Maduro's revolution, and won't hear a word said against it. If he continues to sit on his hands, we might start to believe them."
Last year, Dudamel skipped an L.A. concert so that he could attend Chavez's funeral in Venezuela. The controversial leader was regarded by his detractors as a dictator who didn't tolerate political dissent.
Some Venezuelan musicians have taken a stand against the Maduro administration. Conductor Carlos Izcaray, who like Dudamel was a student in the nation's El Sistema music education program, recently described the current government as "despotic and tyrannical... one that wishes to lead through fear intimidation, and violence."
Venezuelan-born pianist Gabriela Montero criticized Dudamel on Facebook.
"I love the musicians in El Sistema. Many of them are my friends and this has nothing to do with taking anything away from THEM, but the LEADERS have a moral duty to SPEAK UP and risk whatever is necessary in order to stand up against this dictatorship that we are now suppressed by."
Montero referred to an inaccurate report that Dudamel had conducted a youth orchestra in the city of Maracay on Feb. 12, for National Youth Day before an audience reported to have included Maduro. Dudamel conducted another concert that day in Caracas, leading a different youth orchestra.
Jan Wagner, another Venezuelan-born conductor, wrote a letter to British music journalist Norman LeBrecht, calling the current government "ruthless and despotic."
He wrote: "Many of my musician colleagues, friends and family members in Venezuela are afraid of expressing themselves through the already restricted access to social media out fear of repercussions and persecution by the government and out of fear of loosing their jobs and, thus, their livelihoods."
Dudamel is leading concerts at Walt Disney Concert Hall as part of the L.A. Philharmonic's series spotlighting the music of Tchaikovsky.