In defense of Dudamel

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Musician, not a politician

(This post is going to get me in deeper doodoo than I already am with some friends, but here goes)

Gustavo Dudamel, the brilliant Venezuelan conductor and current Musical Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, is as close we get to a Venezuelan superstar. A musical prodigy, he is the poster boy for El Sistema, the nationwide system of youth orchestras that nurtured his talents.

He has also become a highly controversial figure as of late.

You see, Dudamel has chosen to lend his musical talents for many of the Revolution’s landmark events. For example, there he is, directing the orchestra to celebrate the closure of RCTV. There he is, accompanying Sean Penn to view Hugo Chávez’s coffin. And there he was a few nights ago, conducting for Nicolás Maduro while students were being massacred on the streets of the capital.

To my knowledge, Dudamel has never actually publicly defended the Revolution. He has not given speeches at political rallies, and he has not publicly insulted the opposition as fascist goons. Perhaps I’m wrong and he has. In any case, it’s irrelevant.

Dudamel has a right to be a chavista. He is entitled to play for Maduro. Mourning Chávez is his privilege. Criticizing him for it is wrong.

I deeply admire Gabriela Montero, the bold Venezuelan pianist who has unabashedly brought Dudamel and his mentor, José Antonio Abreu, to task for going along just to get along. “No more excuses,” she says in an open letter, one I found tame next to some of the stuff other people are saying about Dudamel. He has responded in an elegant manner.

Many think Dudamel is simply playing the part of loyal chavista in order to preserve government funds for El Sistema. One might be tempted to think that the thousands of kids that benefit from the program are reason enough to suck it up and don a red beret, if that is what is required. If that were the case, his actions would be justified.

But what if he does it out of conviction? What if he really thinks chavismo is better than the alternatives?

Dudamel has no more of a duty to heed to our points of view than anyone else. And just like we wouldn’t want chavistas to force a political position down our throats, so too should Dudamel enjoy the privilege of freedom to support the cause he might think is better.

This is not Leni Riefenstahl or Heidegger we are talking about, because as bad as chavismo is, it doesn’t compare to the horrors of Nazi Germany. Dudamel cannot be compared to Wagner, either, because he has not expressed incendiary views comparable to those of the late German.

This is just a guy playing for his President, someone he likes very much. As sickening as it may be to us, he has a right to swirl his baton in support of his favorite cause, and we must defend that right. Those are the rights we should be fighting for.

Dudamel is not a criminal, and he is not a goon. He is simply wrong. He doesn’t deserve our reproach.