Articulate

S5 E20 | CLIP

Gustavo Dudamel: Playing Nicely

The Venezuelan-born conductor Gustavo Dudamel is on a mission to sew harmony. In the concert hall, and beyond.

AIRED: February 21, 2020 | 0:11:13
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TRANSCRIPT

(inspiring classical music)

- [Jim] On a spring day in 2019,

the Venezuelan-born conductor and social activist,

Gustavo Dudamel, is in Princeton, New Jersey

preparing for a concert.

It's all part of a year-long artistic residency

at the Ivy League school, but for most of the year

Dudamel and his wife, the Spanish actress Maria Valverde

are based in southern California,

where for the past decade he has served

as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic,

one of America's most forward-thinking orchestras.

(exciting orchestral music)

Gustavo Dudamel's life has been shaped by music.

Without it, he could not have become who he is today.

- Something that I remember all the time,

and it comes to me, and it gives me

this kind of bubbling feeling here in this place

that we call soul,

is that moment when I played the violin

for the first time in an orchestra.

That is always, I think every single day, I remember that.

And I understood that my role was to serve to the music.

(rousing classical music)

- [Jim] Dudamel is dedicated to serving

not only the music, but those who play and hear it

and especially those whose lives can be changed by it.

In Los Angeles, the Philharmonic's community

and education programs are the envy of the orchestral world.

Since its founding in 2007, the Youth Orchestra

of Los Angeles, YOLA, has served thousands

of young students across the city.

In 2016, 100% of YOLA's graduating class

completed high school.

90% went to college.

Among these successes is John Gonzales,

who after eight years of the Youth Orchestra,

is now studying bassoon at the prestigious

Peabody Institute in Baltimore,

but when he joined YOLA as a fifth grader,

he was just looking for something to do after school.

- One day my mom came home with a Gustavo Dudamel poster

with like this Youth Orchestra, the YOLA application,

and at first I was nervous.

I really didn't listen to classical music much.

I didn't even know, it wasn't a thing for my family,

like for a Latino family.

We didn't rally listen to classical music.

But I decided to give it a go,

and we started off with recorders,

we did like "Hot Cross Buns,"

we did like little arrangements of big symphonies,

like just the melody parts.

And then Gustavo came like four weeks later,

and that was a huge deal.

At first I didn't know who he was,

but I recognized him because he was the guy

on this poster with like a big baton.

Yeah he kind of, I don't know, it was just something

about his vibe that made it like,

his energy was just so big, and he was really passionate.

He moves a lot.

He's just crazy, and you just like it.

Like you just wanna move with him.

(dramatic classical music)

- [Jim] Gustavo Dudamel was born in Barquisimeto, Venezuela

into a musical family.

His father played salsa trombone.

His mother was a voice teacher.

But Dudamel likely never would have reached

the heights he has as a conductor

without the vision of an economist, musician, and politician

named Jose Antonio Abreu.

Abreu was an influential member of parliament

who later became minister of culture.

He used his powers to create El Sistema,

an afterschool program that would eventually guarantee

instruction in a musical instrument

for every child in Venezuela.

An enthusiastic organist and composer himself,

Abreu believed that giving children,

especially the poor, to play classical program,

would also give them the real-world skills

to improve their lives.

El Sistema began with Abreu teaching

just a handful of kids in his garage.

Today, it is a worldwide phenomenon

with programs in more than 50 countries,

and Gustavo Dudamel as one of its most lauded successes.

He and the program first came to international attention

in 1999 when the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra,

the showcase ensemble for El Sistema,

began touring internationally,

with an 18-year-old Dudamel conducting.

This was a deeply satisfying moment for Abreu,

who remained dedicated to El Sistema

until his death in 2018 at age 78.

- He gave his life

for the opportunity of many.

And that is what he built.

Many people at that time thought he was a crazy man

doing this, but he conquered this dream.

- There's been a very severe regime change

in your country in the last couple of years,

and he's gone.

Is it possible that this will survive

without him there to--

- Completely.

- [Jim] It will?

- Completely, because the dream is alive.

The thing is that yesterday I was in meetings

with the orchestras, they are playing concerts

in the middle of all of this mess,

but still, the dream, the desire,

the hope is there.

- [Jim] In 1999 Hugo Chavez came to power,

and in short order rewrote the constitution

to allow himself to remain as president

of Venezuela in perpetuity.

When he died in 2013, vice president Nicolas Madura

took over, and things quickly fell apart.

Under Maduro, economic policies enacted by Chavez

failed catastrophically, as oil prices collapsed.

Inflation skyrocketed.

Among those who have spoken out against Maduro's regime

is Gustavo Dudamel, who has not been back

to his home country since being forced to take

his wife's Spanish citizenship in 2018,

and though Maduro publicly disparaged the conductor

for daring to comment on politics,

in truth, Dudamel may be very well-placed

to offer advice on conflict resolution.

The Greek root of the word symphony

means to agree, yet that's often far from the reality

of putting 100 plus musicians in a room

and asking them to, as it were, play nicely,

yet making great music relies on other unity,

something Dudamel believes will also be necessary

to the survival of his native country.

- Even if we are in the middle of this moment,

if we disagree, if there is unrest,

this anger, I believe that it will be a place,

it will be a moment where we encounter each other

and through that, because it's very important,

to build a country, we need everyone,

another part on the other.

We need everyone.

And acting as an orchestra

maybe not being agree

of an interpretation or something,

we create an interpretation together, a version,

we create harmony, and we create

what symbolized how our country can work.

- [Jim] Back in LA, Dudamel is staying true to his word.

He has built one of the world's most successful

El Sistema programs outside Venezuela.

One of its most important lessons, go to where the need is.

- We cannot expect for people only to come to us.

We have to go to the community,

because it's a little bit sometimes to everyone

that okay, you come to me, and I give to you,

but that's it.

No.

I think the orchestra, the dynamic of the orchestra

have changed, you know.

Working with the chief of YOLA,

creating these spaces, dreaming to have a place

where these children can build a dream

like they build it, like we built it.

So all of these actions that have been happening

in the last ten years, arrived to this time

with thousands of children.

We hope, our dream is to multiply,

and to keep multiplying that.

- [Jim] Construction is underway on YOLA's new home,

a 25,000 square foot Frank Gehry designed

multipurpose venue that will become a hub

for generations of students to learn

the real world skills that dedicated practice brings.

But even without the perks of a fancy

multimillion dollar building, alumnus John Gonzales

has been forever changed by Gustavo Dudamel.

- It makes me want to share with others

what the passion for music I have,

and basically just stick with me

ever since he first conducted us.

And the more I've been able to be conducted by him,

the more my passion for music grows

and really makes me want to continue doing this.

- [Jim] Gustavo Dudamel has achieved much success

and brought real change to many,

but remains committed to constant growth,

both in his life, and in his music making.

- We have to understand things,

to not be perfect, but to be special.

That is something unique.

I think we discover ourselves all the time

that we are doing something, and that is something

that I want to keep, and I think,

and I keep for my personal life.

Not to get to a routine dynamic,

to keep surprising ourselves all the time,

I think that's something beautiful.

(rousing classical music)

(audience applauding)

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