LA Phil's Gustavo Dudamel: 'With music, we have been uniting people'

160122 full
160122 full

Spring is the season of blooming flowers and sunny days — and Mahler songs and Schubert symphonies at Walt Disney Concert Hall. On Friday night, the Los Angeles Philharmonic will be performing works by the two composers, as they have been each Friday night in May.

Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel is one of the musicians bringing those scores to life.

Two weeks ago, audience members gave him a standing ovation before the music even began. The move came after he dedicated the concert to the victims of recent violence in Venezuela, where recent political unrest has led to a death toll of at least 43 people.

Alex Cohen recently spoke with Dudamel on Morning Edition about the violence in his homeland and the changing future of his home in L.A. 

Interview highlights:

On working with L.A. Philharmonic president and CEO Deborah Borda and her departure from the institution:

It was amazing. It was a great connection immediately. You know that she has Latin blood? Her family is from Colombia and we always share that. I think it was beautiful connection also, because I’m Venezuelan and she has Colombian blood. It was always this kind of conversation about our past, our history and our families. 

You cannot avoid being sad but at the same time, Deborah, have been a gift to this institution all of these years. And she has built, together with me, some wonderful things. And now she’s moving back to her city because she’s from New York. That is natural — things move and I think we will always be grateful to Deborah because of all the work that she did for the institution. But at the same time, it’s a new door that’s opening here, in this beautiful — as an allegory — this beautiful house. It’s a great opportunity where we have to keep building. It’s a very healthy institution because we embrace everything. 

Recently, at a concert here at Disney Concert Hall, you turned to the audience and dedicated that evening’s performance to a 17-year-old musician recently killed in your country. Can you take me back to that moment? 

To all the victims of violence, there have been many people killed. It’s a very difficult moment in my country. In a moment of crisis you try to find a pragmatical reason of why it’s happening. And there can be many pragmatical reasons, but what we can’t let happen is that a moment of change is moved by the blood of people, by violence. That is why I said, it’s unacceptable, any kind of violence. The only solution is really to unite the country because my country is divided. We have to solve the crisis, the economic crisis — there are many technical things that as a politician, I’m not, you have to work for. But, the values. My country is in a moment of intolerance, of anger. Of course, we need a change. It will take time, but it has to start in the moment that all of us, as citizens, embrace each other. We have to build a future for our children, of peace, of tolerance, of respect, of disagreement, but listening to each other with love. That’s what I think is part of the secret solution for this crisis. 

Home is very far away for you. I imagine that there were people in that audience that couldn’t find Venezuela on a map. How does being here in L.A. fit in all this for you? 

For me, we have the best things in the world. We have music and through music, we create that connection. We say things with the things that we do. With music, we have been uniting people. When we play for people, we are not asking them what their political ideals are, what their religion is, or their social position. No, they come here and they listen to a concert and they are united by something unique and beautiful. In that way, I don’t feel far from my country. And we know, how important it is in this moment to send a message of how things can change in peace, without violence. 

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