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Linda Ronstadt hails Gustavo Dudamel in testimony on Capitol Hill

April 1, 2009 | 12:05 pm

Dudamel In a remarkable testimony by Linda Ronstadt to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment & Related Agencies Tuesday, the pop singer made an impassioned plea for government support of the arts.  And Gustavo Dudamel, the Los Angeles Philharmonic's soon-to-be music director, was her poster boy. 

Ronstadt's complete written testimony can be found on the Americans for the Arts website, but here is what she said about Venezuela's El Sistema program, Dudamel and Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Youth Orchestra L.A.

"In the United States, we spend millions on sports because it promotes teamwork, discipline, and the experience of learning to make great progress in small increments.  Learning to play music together does all this and more.

"José Abreu, the founder of El Sistema, the children’s music curriculum currently considered to be the best in the world, says this: 'An orchestra is a community that comes together with the fundamental objective of agreeing with itself. Therefore, the person who plays in an orchestra begins to live the experience of agreement. And what does the agreement of experience mean? Team practice, the practice of a group that recognizes itself as interdependent where one is responsible for others and the others are responsible for oneself. Agree on what? To create beauty.' ”

Rondstadt Turning to Dudamel, who is the most famous product of El Sistema, Ronstadt concluded (capitals are hers):

"...as you may know, there is a conductor of staggering talent who has been hailed as the next Leonard Bernstein. His name is Gustavo Dudamel and he has toured the United States and Europe with the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra to ecstatic reviews. He joins the Los Angeles Philharmonic as their Music Director in the fall. Perhaps you have seen him featured on '60 Minutes' or in other national or international press. Here’s what matters to us today: this young conductor has a passion for music education because he knows its true power to alter the course of young lives. He was brought up in Venezuela in the extraordinary music education system that I mentioned earlier called El Sistema. It has existed for 35 years, and now reaches over 250,000 students and their families.

"A driving force in Dudamel’s life is to transform communities through participation in
music. He is leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s YOLA or Youth Orchestra L.A. project, which is designed to serve children who have the most need and the fewest resources.

"ACCESS TO QUALITY MUSIC EDUCATION SHOULD NOT BE ONLY FOR THOSE WHO
CAN AFFORD IT. THE BENEFITS ARE TOO GREAT.

"Today, children ages 7-16 in the urban core of Los Angeles receive free instruments, after-school music instruction and orchestra experience. The Los Angeles Philharmonic has already touched the lives of hundreds of children and their families and has plans to reach more. Imagine what can be accomplished if we support the arts, engage ‘at risk’ youth and help them succeed in school and in their lives. For ‘underserved’ families, indeed for all families, participation in music and the arts can help people reclaim and achieve the American Dream."

Ronstadt didn't mention that Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra will give a concert Monday night at Kennedy Center, which will include Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring."  The concert is, of course, sold out, but tickets are still available for an afternoon opera dress rehearsal. I hope the new transparency in Washington includes making public who in government attends and who doesn't, so we will better know whom to reelect.

The other cities on this brief U.S. tour are Houston and Chicago.  For the rest of us, Dudamel and the Bolívars have just released an irresistible recording of Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony on Deutsche Grammophon.

-- Mark Swed

UPDATE: An earlier version of the story said the new album was the Fourth Symphony.

Photo: Gustavo Dudamel leads the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra in Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2007.  Credit: Ringo H.W. Chiu / For the Los Angeles Times.

Photo: Linda Rondstadt waiting to testify before Congress. Credit: Associated Press.

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