Is Hugo Chavez Using El Sistema to Burnish his Image?

Gabriela Montero wrote Ex Patria, denouncing the Chávez government(Photo: Colin Bell, Opus 3 Artists)
Gabriela Montero wrote Ex Patria, denouncing the Chávez government(Photo: Colin Bell, Opus 3 Artists)

Some Musicians Say Hugo Chavez’s Embracing of El Sistema Sullies It

El Sistema was founded in 1975 by Jose Antonio Abreu, a musician, economist and former cabinet minister.    Mr. Abreu used music to pull hundreds of thousands of disadvantaged you off the streets of Venezuela and into practice rooms and performance spaces.

Gabriela Montero, a Venezuelan pianist with an international career, has written a piece, Ex Patria, denouncing the Chávez government and the fraying of civil society here. “It’s almost like he’s stolen something that we lived with for the past 40 years and dirtied it with his presence.”

Gustavo Dudamel is the best-known alum of El Sistema and Montero made her concerto debut with the ensemble which would become the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra.  She and other musicians are now concerned about potential damage to El Sistema’s reputation.

Read Music Meets Chavez Politics, and Critics Frown (NY Times)

Watch Gabriela Montero improvise on Bach

Osvaldo Golijov’s Originality Questioned by Critics

Tom Manoff, a National Public Radio classical music critic who lives in Eugene, and Brian McWhorter, a University of Oregon music professor and trumpet player, attended a concert at which Golijov’s Sidereus was performed.

Golijov credits Michael Ward-Bergeman for the melody used in the piece.

Manoff and McWhorter say the work, paid for in part by the Eugene Symphony, borrows much more than its melody from the Ward-Bergeman piece.

Read Composer’s Originality Questioned by Critics (Eugene Register-Guard)

Hear Barbeich by Michael Ward-Bergeman here

Hear Sidereus by Osvaldo Golijov here

You CAN Beat It with a Stick

On 7th Ave in New York City’s theatre district, sandwiched between a strip joint and a brasserie, is the entrance to a nondescript building.  Percussionists say that, if you take the elevator to the third floor, the doors open onto the gateway to Narnia.

You can play a $30,000 white marine pearl Rogers set with gold-plated hardware that jazz drummer Louie Bellson gave to Sammy Davis Jr., or a yellow Gretsch kit belonging to the Rolling Stones’ Charlie Watts, a friend of shop owner Steve Maxwell.

Steve Maxwell Vintage and Custom Drums is the only serious drum store left in New York City, and one of the few left in the country.  On any given day you might run into Vinnie Colaiuta, who has played with everyone from Sting, Faith Hill, and Megadeath, to Herbie Hancock, Andrea Bocelli, and Frank Zappa, or maybe Steve Jordan of the John Mayer Trio.  Unlike the big box stores, this is a combination drum shop and art display.

Read Boom Times for a Seller of Drums (NY Times)