Dudamel defends appearance in Venezuela on day of deadly protests

Venezuelan maestro Gustavo Dudamel, shown conducting the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France during rehearsals at the Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral late last month, issued a statement Thursday defending his appearance in Maracay, Venezuela, at a performance attended by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Three protesters were slain in clashes between pro- and anti-government groups on Wednesday.
(Jacques Demarthon / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images)
<i>This post has been corrected. Please see the For the Record and note at bottom. </i>

CARACAS, Venezuela -- Facing criticism in social media for his appearance with President Nicolas Maduro on the day that violent clashes across Venezuela left three dead, Los Angeles Philharmonic music director Gustavo Dudamel has defended his appearance, saying he and colleagues stand for “peace, love and unity.”

Dudamel directed the Youth Orchestra of Lara on Wednesday with Maduro in attendance, the same day that violence between student demonstrators and government supporters broke out in several cities, leaving scores injured in addition to the dead.

Dudamel in Venezuela: An article in the Feb. 14 Calendar section stated that conductor Gustavo Dudamel directed the Youth Orchestra of Lara in Maracay, Venezuela, on Feb. 12 with President Nicolas Maduro in attendance. Dudamel led a concert that day with a youth orchestra in Caracas, about 80 miles away.

“Our music is the universal language of peace and for that reason we regret yesterday’s events,” Dudamel said in a statement issued late Thursday that referred to the violence and was an apparent response to critics. “With instruments in hand, we say no to violence and an overwhelming yes to peace.”


Opposition officials claim the demonstrations called by students to protest high inflation, crime and scarcities turned violent when motorcyclists supporting the government opened fire on them, causing chaos and havoc. Government officials claim the marchers were the instigators.

The occasion of Dudamel’s performance in Maracay was the 39th anniversary of the famed El Sistema youth orchestra program founded by Jose Antonio Abreu that has swept Venezuela and inspired similar music education programs in other countries. The ceremony also marked the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Victoria, a crucial milestone in Venezuela’s struggle for independence.

But in comments that circulated widely in social media, self-exiled Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero on Thursday posted an open letter on her Facebook page criticizing Dudamel, saying he was ignoring “the toxic oasis” in which she says El Sistema now operates.

“On Feb 12, we crossed a line as a nation when a peaceful demonstration was marred by murder and the same organized thuggery that has killed so many in recent years, spurred by the government and its militias,” Montero wrote. “You have the power to make an enormous difference in the situation of our country. Please use it.”

As a product of El Sistema, Dudamel often leads the government-supported Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela and on tours abroad. But in highly polarized Venezuela, he risks offending Venezuelans who oppose the socialist government whenever he appears in public with Maduro.

Conducting the youth orchestra, Dudamel performed at funeral ceremonies for late President Hugo Chavez last March, taking an all-night charter flight from Los Angeles to arrive in time.

[For the record, 6:20 p.m. PST Feb. 14: A previous version of this post referred to the Venezuelan Symphony Orchestra instead of the Youth Orchestra of Lara and the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra instead of the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela.]

Special correspondents Mogollon reported from Caracas and Kraul from Bogota, Colombia.