With all the Oscar season hoopla surrounding Netflix release Maestro, Bradley Cooper’s Leonard Bernstein-centered bio-rom-drama, it’s a good time to revisit Ted Braun’s 100% Rotten Tomatoes-fresh ¡Viva Maestro!, currently streaming across a number of platforms (and Netflix competitors, including Max, Prime Video, Vudu and Apple TV). The 2022 doc follows the world-renowned (and unexpectedly zen) Venezuelan conductor and violinist Gustavo Dudamel as he circles the globe in an effort to spread the gospel of music. Until deadly protests throughout his home country threaten to derail the decidedly apolitical mission.
Then again, if it were not for politics – specifically of the anticapitalist variety – Dudamel probably would not have become the maestro he is today. Born in 1981, he was educated under a system developed by his own maestro mentor, the musician and activist José Antonio Abreu, back in 1975. At its core was a “social transformation through music” that began with targeting the nation’s ripe youth. Indeed, as one musician notes, “El Sistema is culture as empowerment.” It was through this populist structure that Dudamel learned, as he stresses in the film, to “embrace” the orchestra, and “to feel the sound in (his) hands.”
For music to this passionate conductor is nothing less than “an essential human right,” and not an elitist pastime. Under the tutorship of Abreu he “discovered the universe of possibilities – and how to use those possibilities.” Which is why instead of despairing while watching his nation collapse from on tour several time zones away, Dudamel remains surprisingly upbeat (no pun intended). ”They can cut the flowers but they can never stop the spring,” he even declares earnestly, quoting Abreu (per Neruda). Music is beyond entertainment – as it “heals the soul of the people,” he later assures.
Though Dudamel now works with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Paris Opera – and is scheduled to become music director of the New York Philharmonic in 2026 (the position held by none other than Bernstein himself nearly seven decades ago) – he seems remarkably aware that careerism is ephemeral while harmony remains eternal. Which is likely why in 2024, long after Cooper and crew have walked the red carpets, he’ll be celebrating an impressive quarter century directing the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela. Politics will never destroy the people. Power to the music. ¡Viva Maestro!
– Lauren Wissot