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On March 20th the music fans of Toronto and Montreal celebrated with a standing ovation the visit of the Venezuelan director Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philarmonic Orchestra. In this occasion, Dudamel decided to stay away from the media and not to give interviews, which is far from surprising. In the past month, groups of Venezuelan exiles have followed Dudamel anywhere he goes to protest against his complicit silence towards the abuse of power exercised by the chavista government against its opponents and for his participation in a series of concerts held in Venezuela just at the same time that students were brutally repressed by the police and the military. In the eyes of the opposition, Gustavo Dudamel plays music to a sinking ship called Bolivarian Revolution. “These are difficult times,” said Dudamel to The New York Times reporter Michael Cooper in an interview for the Time Talks series.

In the same interview, Dudamel mentioned something that has totally gone under the radar–we are living, he said, “in the best all possible worlds” and this makes him feel a special connection with the philosopher Pangloss, a satiric character created by French writer Voltaire in his novel Candide to make fun of the German mathematician and philosopher Gottfried Wilhem von Leibniz, who posed that, since there is not effect without a cause, the world we live in cannot be but the best of all possible worlds.

“When I was reading Candide by Voltaire,” said Dudamel, “I was so connected with Pangloss, this philosopher who thinks we live in the best world where we can live. And I believe this, because these are our lives, we are living in this world, and we have to feel all the elements of life: suffering, happiness, all these human elements that we need. And I believe that my country will grow up from this moment and be better.” This curious connection that Dudamel feels with Pangloss allows multiple interpretations. But let’s first remind the reader of who Pangloss is.

Pangloss appears at a first glance as a sort of hippie philosopher–an idealist whose good intentions keep him disconnected from his most immediate reality. But fairly soon the reader discovers that he is in fact one the many butt-kissers of the Baron of Westfalia, a mediocre character who everyone addresses as “Monsignor” and whose bad jokes are celebrated by everyone. Replace “Monsignor” by “Comandante” and “Westfalia” by “Venezuela” and you will easily find a striking coincidence with the adulatory nature of the chavista regime in Venezuela.

In any case, Plangoss’ reasoning goes from idealistic to frankly dangerous when he posits that all the evil in this world, even war, is “indispensable”, for private misfortunes make the general good—“so that the more private misfortunes there are, the greater is the general good”. It is not so hard to see that the implementation of this way of thinking in the realm of politics ended up justified most of the fascist regimes that emerged in the 20th century. This reasoning also sounds a bit too familiar to Venezuelans, since it has characterized the past fifteen years of chavista government. At the end of the book, Plangoss unveils his true nature: he is but a cynic or, in the best-case scenario, a mediocre soul willing to die in the wrong.

“Well, my dear Pangloss,” said Candide to his mentor, who suffers countless misfortunes throughout the book, “when you had been hanged, dissected, whipped, and were tugging at the oar, did you always think that everything happens for the best?” “I am still of my first opinion,” responded Pangloss, “for I am a philosopher and I cannot retract”. Cynically, Pangloss owned that he had always suffered horribly, but as he had once asserted that everything went wonderfully well, he asserted it still, though he no longer believed it.

So what is it that Gustavo Dudamel finds so fascinating about Pangloss? Is he suggesting that the chavista regime in Venezuela is the best of possible worlds?

“These are difficult times,” told Dudamel, clearly uneasy, when Michel Cooper asked about the unrest in Venezuela. “I believe in the right of people to protest because these are rights. And I think what it’s important in this moment is to sit down and think. You have to ways to react, by instinct or by reason. I love to think. Because it’s, in a way, what I do all day.”

“But if I can say something is that we need to sit down and to respect—to respect what the other thinks because at the end that is democracy,” he continues.

“Venezuela is a very young country. If you see the history of Venezuela, these past two hundreds years, it’s a short story. It is a story of evolution, but I look and I still see Venezuela as a beautiful teenager that is trying to find the way how to live.” Certainly, in the eyes of a revolutionary, the revolution it is always young”. Dudamel’s discomfort becomes apparent when Cooper asks whether reason can still be considered subjective even when in a conflict violence is exercised more in one side than the other.

“Reason, who has the reason?” reflects Dudamel. “The reason is something very subjective. What I want to say is that, honestly, I strongly condemn violence, completely; coming from wherever is coming from, because with violence we will not arrive to any part… It is time for my country for reflection, for dialogue, very sincere dialog”.

Dudamel goes on by saying that he has spent the past month reflecting and thinking. Consequently, one must infer that his reflections have gravitated around the idea that we live in the best all possible worlds and that Plangloss is in not a cynic but a role model. The point is—there is no doubt that Dudamel lives in the best of possible worlds–that of a talented young man with humble origins that early in life enjoys fortune and fame worldwide. But it is impossible to listen to Dudamel speaking about the current situation in Venezuela and saying that we live the best of possible worlds without feeling outraged.

Can Dudamel explain to the families of the almost 200 thousand Venezuelans who have been murdered in fifteen years of chavismo that they live in the best of possible worlds? What about the countless private companies that the chavista government expropriated and that are in complete bankruptcy? What about the sixteen thousand PDVSA professionals that Hugo Chávez fired illegally just for going to strike, or all those Venezuelans fired and persecuted for signing in against Chávez in the referendum of 2004; or the 50% of the population that in the presidential elections of 2013 voted for the opposition leader Henrique Capriles Radonski? Can a country with an official inflation of 56% and a shortage of basic products, such as milk and toilet paper, be a wonderful world? How would Dudamel explain to all those imprisoned for political reasons —opposition leader Leopoldo López, democratically elected majors Enzo Scaranno and Daniel Ceballos, former chief of police Iván Simonovis— that being held illegally in jail is in fact the reflection of a perfect world?

Almost at the end of the interview, Dudamel gives an example of what he understands by union and coexistence in a polarized society: “When I play in my country, we have in the audience people that think differently, completely different. They have different social status, they could be poor or rich, and they could be part of different religions… But when we are playing, they are all united and are not even thinking about it. El Sistema is a symbol of union.”

El Sistema, Dudamel suggests, is a symbol of union because when the orchestra plays the audience listens silently and people forget about their differences. The problem, maestro, is that dictatorship is the sole regime in which people dialogue in silence. In democracy, people have the right to dissent and express their point of views out loud. Democracy is not about hiding our differences but rather about acknowledging and respecting them. I tend to believe, maestro, that wright and wrong become less subjective when there is a boot stepping onto someone’s face, the tip of a riffle stocked in someone’s anus or a bullet ending someone’s life. Reason; wright or wrong—it all becomes way less subjective when the National Assembly of a country conforms a Truth Commission without including a single member of the official opposition, or when the government invites its “enemies” to establish a “sincere dialogue” by insulting them and calling them names.

I am curious to see how Gustavo Dudamel would explain to the almost 1,600 students who have been arrested in the past month for protesting, that the tortures they have suffered and the ransoms of up to 10,000 dollars that some have paid to police and military officials as a condition to release a family member illegally detained is the best of possible worlds? I would like to see if Dudamel would even dare to suggest that idea to Marivina Jiménez, a woman who after being savagely beaten by a military was then charged with five offences, including “aggression against three public officials”. And what about the more than thirty Venezuelans who have died in this past month as a result of president Nicolás Maduro’s repression—will Dudamel tell their families not to worry because their loved ones died in a perfect world?

In prison, terrified and desperate, Candide said to himself, “If this is the best of possible worlds, what then are the others?”

The world is a pretty out-of-tune place, maestro. You can use your enormous talent to create harmony… or to contribute to chaos.

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