Wednesday, November 12, 2014

That dead moose is back on the Simon Bolivar stage

In the Guardian Geoff Baker previews his forthcoming book under the headline El Sistema: a model of tyranny? and the sub-head fills in the story: "Far from the shining example of how classical music can change vulnerable young lives many claim it to be, Venezuala’s El Sistema fails the country’s most deprived children". Now, a declaration of interest is needed*: I haven't read El Sistema: Orchestrating Venezuela as it isn't published until November 28th. But I know that Geoff Baker cites several of my numerouis critical posts about El Sistema in his book.

Nine years ago I first raised concerns about the cultural/corporate agenda of El Sistema in a post titled No such thing as an unknown Venezuelan conductor. In this I said: "I also happen to know that fairytales just don't exist anymore in today's world of classical music - except in the minds of PR men and management agencies", and that view is echoed by Geoff Baker who explains that in Venezuela El Sistema is "characterised variously as a cult and a corporation". In a 2006 post titled Classical music and the paid-for media I raised concerns about how the mass media had swallowed the El Sistema myth hook, line and sinker, saying: "Don't readers of the paid-for newspapers need all the hard facts they can get on The System behind these glowing articles?" This theme is taken up by Geoff Baker, who in the Guardian tells how in Venzuela he found: "A different Sistema, one that bore little resemblance to the heart-warming story told by the institution itself and the international media".

More recently I have written about The dead moose on the Simon Bolivar stage . In that post I questioned why the classical music establishment has resolutely ignored the darker side of El Sistema. Now Geoff Baker has - not before time - given that question a much higher profile. There are always two sides to any argument, and, heavens knows, we need all the music education we can get. But El Sistema and the celebrities associated with it have received the fawning and uncritical attention of the music establishment for too long. So it is good that Geoff Baker's forthcoming book looks set to add some balance to the debate.

* A review copy of El Sistema: Orchestrating Venezuela is being sent to me by Oxford University Press. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

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