Music is often said to be a universal language — no matter where you are from or what language you speak, people can speak through music. It definitely brings people together from all over the world, just as it brought the Bolívar Symphony to Carnegie Hall’s opening night. In Zachary Woolfe’s recent article in the New York Times, he briefly analyzes the orchestra’s performance before discussing in more depth about the financial and political support the orchestra might have from its country of origin, Venezuela. He argues that even though the musicians and musical director, Gustavo Dudamel, seem to choose to turn away from the economical issues that Venezuela is facing, audience members “should not grant [them]selves” the same luxury.
The “luxury” that Woolfe describes is the situation that most members of the Bolívar Symphony come from. The members of the orchestra were all part of the youth orchestra created by El Sistema, a government supported program that provides musical instruments and training for children all over Venezuela. But the difference between when they were a youth orchestra and now as professional musicians is the state that Venezuela is in with tragic food crisis and crumbling of mental hospitals. But Woolfe observes that if anyone were to just look at the musicians in their tuxedos and dresses and how they were into the concert, no one would assume that they are coming from a politically difficult country.
Dudamel briefly mentioned in his opening speech that despite the “difficult times” in their country, the musicians were still in love with what they do and can put aside their differences to make music. True, the orchestra is government funded, and maybe that is why Dudamel’s speeches are very apolitical, but it shouldn’t change how the musicians perform and dress. Another music journalist for the New York Times, Anthony Tommasini, did just that. His review of the Bolívar Symphony’s performance was that of the music and not of its country.
As a musician myself, I’ve had the opportunity to play with other people from different countries and backgrounds, and we have been able to get along just fine, musically and personally. Once the music starts, the focus is on the music and art of making the music. I don’t think about how our performance could potentially showcase the current economic or political happenings of America. I don’t even think like this while watching performances by other symphonies. If I did, everyone would be too stressed to even perform or listen to the music, given the recent presidential election.
So is there a political underlying representation with the symphony? With the musicians, no. Woolfe says that if we demand to know where our chicken comes from, we should also know how the money funding these symphonies is being made; audience members should be aware of the politics involved with the orchestra. However, as a musician, I believe that musicians shouldn’t have to worry about anything else other than the music. Musical performances could be the respite that countries need.