Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Venezuelan Miracle

Our media is free - as long as it doesn't disagree with the mighty and the powerful or the super wealthy. Until recently the White House couldn't really be criticized, even though it had conducted its affairs in more secrecy than the Soviet Supreme during the Cold War. Because of this self-imposed censorship we don't hear about things that ought to involve us all, or these items get very little attention. Just a few days ago the head of Hyundai Corporation in South Korea, Chung Mong-koo, was arrested on embezzlement and corruption charges and is kept behind bars. To an average American such news is meaningless because he doesn't realize the magnitude of the case. Hyundai is one of largest auto makers in the world, soon a rival to Toyota, and arresting its top executive is like putting Bill Gates in jail and denying him bail. Time will show what will happen in this case in Seoul. The enormously large companies in South Korea are run like family enterprises, and although they are public corporations, an average shareholder has no knowledge what happens behind scenes. I wish our authorities would have the guts to investigate our corrupt business leaders and politicians in a similar manner. Color of justice should not be green.

In America money buys everything, from justice to power. Facts get twisted in the media to suit a powerful person's or group's purposes. After the mistake of invading Iraq it was hard to find any mainstream publication that was critical of it. Surely the weapons of mass destruction would turn up any day now! 9/11 was the administration's favorite term and excuse, although no connection to the terrorist strike and Iraq could ever be established. Well, things for our leaders have turned a lot more sour lately, and our president's ratings have plummeted to rock bottom, as people are finally seeing what should have been evident from the start.

Since our resources have been stretched thin, it has been impossible for our government to pay enough attention to our own hemisphere, and to our horror Latin America has made a sharp turn to the left, towards socialism. We tried to get rid of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, helping his opponents in a coup attempt, but our success was similar to that of Bay of Pigs in Cuba over 40 years ago. Since this elected leader of his country controls gigantic oil fields, he is in a position to tell our government what he thinks of our leadership and its meddling in other countries' affairs. Our response has been to ignore Mr. Chávez, and make sure that any news coming out of Venezuela is negative. Even NPR, usually our most neutral news source, today was talking about the fact that in Caracas gasoline only costs 12 cents a gallon, and what a terrible thing it is because the gas station owners cannot earn enough, and how all this encourages more driving and pollution. Couldn't NPR just say that the Venezuelans were just mimicking the American life style, and that we are terribly jealous that they can afford to do so with such low fuel prices?

This negativity has kept some incredibly wonderful things from becoming public here, in the the field of music. I first learned from European sources about a bright, energetic star on the orchestra scene. Gustavo Dudamel had grown up in a system that provides music education to the children of slums, and now at the age of 25 has been hired to lead the Gothenburg (Göteborg) Symphony Orchestra in Sweden, the very same orchestra that put Neeme Järvi on the map. Unlike the cool and calculating Finns, the Venezuelans have hot Latin rhythm flowing in their blood and, although I haven't yet seen him conduct, I can picture how exciting this young maestro can be. All the reviews I've managed to read have spoken to this effect. His story is truly a rags-to-riches, and he must have enormous talent to have accomplished all this against seemingly impossible odds. Coming from poverty, there was nobody to buy him a career, to give a manager a large sum of money and say 'make this young man a star at any cost.' Why don't we see Mr. Dudamel here in this country regularly with every major orchestra? Is it because he is a product of a social program in a country we cannot say anything positive about? I bet orchestras here would find their halls packed to capacity, even without a big-name soloist in the program, with such flare, energy, musicality and skill on the podium. Instead, we might see an old 'fuddy-duddy' conducting, with audience members yawning, looking at their watches and wanting to hurry home, especially after the soloist has finished his or her number.

And it is not just Mr. Dudamel: Venezuela is producing an amazing number of other great musicians. With that remarkable program in place, Venezuela has become an envy to any other nation. Simon Rattle said: "This is the most important thing happening in classical music anywhere in the world". In a country where three-quarters of its 22 million inhabitants live below poverty line, hunger for classical music has created no less than 125 youth orchestras, 57 children's orchestras and 30 adult professional symphony orchestras. Sure, I'm proud of my native Finland's accomplishments, but bow humbly down in front of these amazing figures and facts.

Let us put politics aside, pay no attention to the Bush-Chávez war of words, and welcome this nation as the most inspiring example music world has to offer today. I don't usually yearn for concerts as I overdosed on them already long ago, but if have a chance to go, see and hear Mr. Dudamel or one his gifted compatriots perform, I would be happy to wait in line for hours for a ticket.