When Beatriz Perret-Gentil heard that the National Youth Orchestra of Venezuela would be stopping at Wolf Trap during its planned September tour, she was excited.
A native Venezuelan who moved to D.C. for college, Perret-Gentil had seen performances by the highly esteemed group back in Venezuela and was feeling nostalgic for home when she heard about the concert. But the entire U.S. tour was cancelled on orders from Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, who recently criticized conductor Gustavo Dudamel for dipping his toes into Venezuelan politics.
“I’ve been to concerts with other Venezuelans in D.C. and it’s just a great occasion to get together and see our national music performed, our national artists perform,” Perret-Gentil says.
Dudamel is known for championing arts among under-privileged youth in Venezuela. He’s the music director of the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra, part of a government-funded educational music program for Venezuelan children known as El Sistema, which he was part of as a child. And he also directs the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Amid growing violence, turmoil, and political tension in Venezuela, Dudamel refrained from voicing his opinion, that is until this May, after El Sistema violist Armando Cañizales Carrillo was killed during clashes between anti-government protesters and the National Guard.
“Enough is enough,” Dudamel wrote in a statement on Facebook. “We owe our youth a hopeful world, a country where we can walk freely in dissent, in respect, in tolerance, in dialogue and in which dreams have room to build the Venezuela we all yearn for.”
He also penned an op-ed for The New York Times in July in which he called for the government not to form a national constituent assembly to rewrite the Venezuelan constitution.
But Maduro criticized Dudamel in a televised appearance in August, according to the Associated Press. “Welcome to politics, Gustavo Dudamel. But act with ethics, and don’t let yourself be deceived into attacking the architects of this beautiful movement of young boys and girls,” Maduro said. Days later, it was reported that the tour was cancelled.
The tour stop at Wolf Trap was set to include performances of Prokofiev’s “Symphony No. 5” and a live score to John Williams’ E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. The venue says it will issue refunds for all tickets purchased through Wolf Trap, which range in price from $20 to $58, but did not provide City Paper with the number of tickets sold.
“While we regret we cannot present this extraordinary young orchestra at this time, we are committed to bringing them back in the future to share their enthusiasm and prowess,” Wolf Trap Media Relations Manager Emily Smalling wrote in a statement.
On Twitter, Dudamel called the cancellation “heart-breaking.
“My dream to play with these wonderful young musicians cannot come true—this time,” he wrote.
The rest of Dudamel’s tour with the National Youth Orchestra of Venezuela was also scheduled to hit Illinois’ Ravinia Festival, the Hollywood Bowl, and the Greek Theater in Berkeley, Calif. About 180 musicians had been rehearsing for three months to come to the U.S. for this tour, the Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional reported.
More than Dudamel—or the ticket holders—it’s the boys and girls in the youth orchestra who have lost out with the tour’s cancellation, says Ricardo Mondolfi, who grew up in Venezuela’s capital of Caracas and had tickets for the Wolf Trap concert. He says the hardship on people who already bought tickets is nothing compared to the hardship of the children.
“For the longest time El Sistema has been seen as something that all Venezuelans could be proud of,” Mondolfi says. “They’re not only a point of pride but they’re a symbol of success, of being able to overcome difficulties, kind of as a metaphor for the whole country … So for them to all of a sudden have the government that obviously represents the country—or is supposed to—to turn their back on them, I think it’s a very sad move.”
Perret-Gentil agrees with Mondolfi’s sentiments. “I was upset that we rely so heavily on our corrupt government that just by defying it, such a beautiful event can get cancelled,” she says. “It’s not only a great opportunity for those who attend but for the musicians who have a unique chance to travel abroad Venezuela and just perform in front of larger crowds.”