Zapata and Abreu

[7/2/15] Two important Venezuelan cultural figures have been in the news recently – Pedro León Zapata, artist and cartoonist, who just died, and José Antonio Abreu, whose orchestral training program is celebrating its 40th anniversary. It’s interesting to recall when their paths crossed – one of the many moments in El Sistema’s history that’s unknown to most self-styled Sistema “experts” in the US and elsewhere outside Venezuela. The text below comes from Rafael Rivero’s famous 1994 article about Abreu entitled “The Philanthropic Ogre”:

Nevertheless, that nasty scandal was nothing compared to the one in 1979 that involved the youth orchestras and a music critic, Gustavo Tambascio. He was an Argentinean intellectual refugee in Venezuela. At the time, there was a horrific vigilante organization in Argentina, the Argentinian Anticommunist Association – The Triple A – that was in charge of persecuting, capturing and, if possible, torturing any politician or intellectual who presented any signs of “reddening”, which brought about a sort of southern diaspora of people who were generally highly skilled and with a preference for Venezuela. A left-wing philosopher and music-lover, as well as a prestigious man among his peers, Tambascio was a contributor to the legendary Section E of El Nacional newspaper with a cutting and somewhat pedantic music column. On a fateful Sunday, November 11, he railed against a concert by the Simón Bolívar Symphonic Youth Orchestra, a spawn of the Simón Bolívar Orchestra. “An orchestral chaos”, Tambascio wrote, “it reminded me of the final moments of a children’s birthday party, where the kids throw each other pieces of cake, slip on the floor and fight over the remnants of the piñata; perhaps I should have followed in the steps of a well-known pianist who left the concert during the intermission, overwhelmed by an indignant feeling of anxiety. With all the sympathy that Abreu’s youngsters elicit (although the concertmaster should already be in an adult orchestra), I cannot help but point out the lapses in tuning. An uncontrollable stream of sounds”, said the columnist in a cruel tone.

Abreu let himself go in a frenzy of xenophobic and nationalistic rage in the response that followed the next day. He began his counterattack by saying, “Dear director of Section E: Today, it falls upon me to acknowledge the existence of a growing wave of adventurers, smugglers, and upstarts […]. In his ridiculous style, plagued by a nouveau riche intellectual mentality, Mr Tambascio tries his hand at a repugnant mockery of the magnificent concert directed by Maestro Alberto Grau. He should be aware that there are plenty of legal mechanisms in Venezuela to strike back hard and in all areas at all those who attempt to insult or defame her. To see your signature at the end of such a long list of nonsense against such authentic patriotic values hurts us Venezuelans deeply, and we are going to fight back against any interloper who dares to spit on our values and institutions. Your petty article will not go unpunished…”

Those close to him signed a public statement in his defense, but Section E carried out a poll among intellectuals and most of them condemned Abreu’s chauvinism. The cruelest one, the infallible Pedro León Zapata, did so with two harsh caricatures: “Now Abreu is spelled with triple A”, and in the other one he added, “When the mothers of the Pemón children read Abreu’s letter, they threw away their violins”. Luis Alberto Crespo and Nabor Zambrano, who at the time worked for Section E, were there when Abreu, standing at gates of El Nacional and after having left the written response of his followers, said: “I have to start writing, ¡the press is so powerful!”

[owners of El Sistema: Orchestrating Venezuela’s Youth can turn to p.68 to contextualize the Pemón reference]

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