No such thing as an unknown Venezuelan conductor

The Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra is playing at the BBC Proms tonight (5th August 2005) with a programme including Mahler (Ruckert-Lieder with Anne Sophie von Otter), Tubin and Sibelius. Their superstar Principal Conductor Neemi Jarvi is ill, so stepping into the breach is 24 year old Venezuelan Gustavo Dudamel (right) who becomes the third youngest conductor to appear at the Proms. As the two younger talents were Simon Rattle and Daniel Harding there is a lot for Gustavo Dudamel to live up to.

Several famous conductors got their fairytale big break by taking over at short notice from an indisposed superstar. Probably the most famous was Leonard Bernstein who took over from Bruno Walter to conduct the New York Philharmonic in November 1943 at just a few hours notice.

The media are having a field day in the UK with the 'unknown Venezuelan' story, and Charlotte Higgins in the Guardian seems to have swallowed it hook line and sinker with a screaming headline... Conducting prodigy to make Proms debut at 24.

Now I am as delighted as anyone that young Gustavo is getting his big break tonight. But the Guardian's story that 'Dudamel is unknown outside his native Venzuela, where he conducts a youth orchestra' is a great example of the facts not being allowed to get in the way of a great story. In fact Dudamel is signed to Askonas Holt. They are one of the world's leading concert management agencies; which means they are a major musical power broker bringing orchestras and conductors together. And their artists include Sir Simon Rattle, Daniel Barenboim and Bernard Haitink, as well as Daniel Harding.

Among the 'youth orchestras' on Askonas Holt's roster are the Berlin Philharmonic and BBC Symphony Orchestras. Is a pattern starting to emerge? Moreover the unknown conductor of Venezuelan youth orchestras also has a Deutsche Grammophon contract in his pocket, a company with very strong links to the Berlin Philharmonic. The media also makes much of Simon Rattle's advocacy of Dudamel. This becomes a little less remarkable when you realise they are both under the same management who stand to gain financially from Dudamel's success. And then Rattle is, of course, Music Director of the Berlin Philharmonic who are represented by Askonas Holt......need I say more?

So good luck tonight (Friday 5th August) Gustavo, I'll be rooting for you. But I also happen to know that fairytales just don't exist anymore in today's music-like-water world of classical music - except in the minds of PR men and management agencies.

*Judge Gustavo Dudamel's Proms debut for yourself by listening to the live web cast. The concert starts at 7.30pm BST tonight (5th August) . Convert this to your local time zone using this link. Or if you cannot listen-in read the Guardian review tomorrow via this link.

If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Guest blog - A Year at the Symphony

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Pliable said…
See a very useful complimentary post to this story at The Well-Tempered Blog in which Bart Collins focuses on the excellent musical education programmes in Venezuela.

When read together these two posts give a much more in-depth and useful analysis of the Dudamel story than that offered by 'mainstream' media like the Guardian.

Such is the power of music blogs.
Pliable said…
Only the best people read this blog - this popped up on my server log this morning... (Houses Of Parliament)

United Kingdom, 0 returning visits

Date Time
5th August 2005 10:26:25
gP said…

You have a great music blog. Love the writings.
Pliable said…
I note that the Tubin Toccata, in tonight's programme is a victim of the change of conductor. It has been dropped.
Garth Trinkl said…
pliable, besides Bart Collins' excellent Well-Tempered Blog on Venezuela's extensive classical music education efforts, there is also Drew McManus's equally fine three-part blog, at, on his classical music education study trip to Venezuela earlier this summer.

The power of blogging times 3.1!!
Pliable said…
Garth, thanks for that link pointing to Drew's in depth analysis of music education in Venezuela.

The resources available across the network of music blogs is just fantastic - particularly when I notice that the most recent news story today (5th Aug) on The Gramophone web site is dated 1st Aug!

Support music blogs if you want the hot stories.
PooterGeek said…
20:10 BST and still no show. They're playing the Labeque twins doing Ravel on BBC Radio 3 because there's some kind of technical hitch at the Albert Hall.
Pliable said…
Yes, you're right. The relay started at 20.25h, as apparantly did the concert. The announcer didn't give a reason, but my guess was that it wasn't a technical hitch. I fear the hall may have been cleared because of a security alert which would account for the 55 minute delay. There is a huge police presence in London today - more than 6000, many armed.
Anonymous said…
I recall seeing an article a few years back on how the Venezuelans had fiercely promoted musical education to the degree that children in tiny, poor villages were learning to play musical instruments and participate in youth orchestras, resulting in a rich legacy of extremely fine musicians. See the following: about the man who spearheaded this movement, and another link about Dudamel being raised through this system. And here’s a link I got from The Well-Tempered Blog on the subject: . Anyway, the story of Venezuela and its child musicians has stuck with me for some time now, your recent post triggered it again. I only wish that American education would “get it”—music and arts are the first things for the chop in economic hard times because it is seen as a luxury for rich people, not integral to every person’s well-being.
Pliable said…
Thanks for posting aminovice, civilized debate is the oxygen which on an overgrown path runs on.

I was going to respond by saying that record labels have much less power these days than artist management companies.

But then I went on the Askonas Holt web site and noticed that Claudio Abbado (who of course is a DGG artist) is also managed by Askonas Holt. As indeed is Claudio's nephew Roberto, which makes it a real family concern.

May not be 'remarkable' but interesting how the overgrown paths connect....

I am full of admiration for the musical education system in Venezuela, and the links I have posted above have, hopefully, helped in a small way to bring it to a wider audience.

I am delighted that leading conductors are working to bring this most worthy activity to the media, and the world’s, attention. But by the same token I do not consider that a reason for not also drawing the reader’s attention to the linked interests of the various parties involved.
Pliable said…
Read the Guardian review of Gustavo Dudamel's Prom debut by following this link
Pliable said…
Aminovice the problem is, as far as I can ascertain after investing some time googling, neither the Telegraph
nor Times reviews of Dudamel’s concert are available online. If you, anyone else can locate them, or other reviews, please post the links.

Alternatively, if you would like to transcribe the text of the reviews, with acknowledgement to avoid copyright problems, and post them here, I am sure readers would be very interested to share them.

So no hidden agendas. Music blogging is the art of the possible. The Guardian are the most web-friendly newspaper, and that is why their excellent online reviews resource is linked in all my Proms posts.
Pliable said…
Many thanks for all these very valuable posts which have helped paint what is a very complex picture. This story is not only about Gustavo Dudamel. It is also about the importance of music education, a subject evangelised by our own Sir Peter Maxwell Davies (I urge you to read my archived post A musician with teeth and the his speech which is linked to it). It is also about the commercial forces in classical music, which like an iceberg are 90% invisible. I have tried to make those forces more visible with posts such as Music-like-water.

I thought long and hard about the recent comment which said I was not presenting a balanced view of this story. To a certain extent that is a fair comment. This is a blog. One definition of a blog is as follows Blog is short for weblog. A weblog is a journal that is frequently updated and intended for general public consumption. Blogs generally represent the personality of the author or the Web site.

On an overgrown path represents my personality. And as my wife will testify that is certainly not balanced. You will not find mentions on this blog of composers ranging from Varese to Gilbert and Sullivan. That is not because they are insignificant composers, but personally they mean little to me.

The checks and balances can be added by you the readers via the comments and email facilities. This is not hopeless idealism on my part. The reader input on the Dudamel story has been overwhelming. I know some of you have put a lot of effort into transcribing reviews. That is much appreciated. Thanks, it has worked.

So please keep the comments pouring in to this unbalanced, but well read, blog.

P.S. It is an irony of blogging that the posts that are special to the writer sink like a lead baloon with readers. Would someone now please post a comment on my Peerless Potugese Polyphony post!

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