Hit play below to listen to our Arts Alive interview with Carlos Izcaray.
In 2004, Carlos Izcaray was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He had just moved back to his hometown of Caracas after living abroad for decade when protests broke out on the streets of the Venezuelan capital city. Izcaray tells me he went down to see what the people were protesting.
“What I did not know,” Izcaray told me during a recent conversation at the KUSC studios, “is that the Venezuelan National Guard had sent troops to the side streets to surround the people who were protesting. I was, unfortunately, one of the people who was picked up.”
Izcaray ended up being detained for nearly 24 hours.
“They made me repeat and sing pro-government songs,” Izcaray said, “There were some more harsh things as well: being locked up in a small room with tear gas being shot in there, electro-shock. All sorts of bad things. It did feel that this sort of treatment was a systematic thing. Something that was taught to the troops to do to the people who were behaving ‘out of line.’”
When he was released, Izcaray told me he was instructed not to speak about how he had been treated there in prison.
“Basically, they said, ‘If anybody says anything, we have ways to track you down and kill you.’”
But, Carlos Izcaray didn’t keep quiet. He spoke to the press, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and even testified before the U.S. Congress.
Now, Izcaray is using music not just to share his story, but to highlight the stories of others who face similar humanitarian crises. Tomorrow’s concert does that. It’s a program that includes Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony, which was originally dedicated to Napoleon, but when Napoleon crowned himself Emperor, Beethoven changed the dedication to Eroica, to the people.
The program also includes Copland’s Lincoln Portrait, which incorporates the words of our 16th president on themes of freedom and equality; music by Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas, who fought for social justice in his country; and there’s music that Izcaray composed on the program as well.
“I think there are pieces and there are moments when music serves its own purpose—art for the sake of art, definitely. But there are times also that it’s appropriate to marry that art with something else and I think if done correctly, it can actually enhance the experience. Music can be entertaining, it can be light, it’s fine. It can be an exploration of the depths of the soul or something much more spiritual or mystical. And there are places also where it can be more earthly, when it can deal with current events. In this case, we are talking about something much more focused, which is human rights, and that is part of the human experience.”
Carlos Izcaray is the music director of the American Youth Symphony. Saturday evening, AYS performs a free concert at UCLA’s Royce Hall. The performance will be preceded by a panel discussion about human rights and the power of music to uplift the human spirit and also affect change with Izcaray and other experts, including Clara Long, a specialist on U.S. immigration and border policy, and Joanna Demers, a professor of musicology at the USC Thornton School of Music. The panel starts at 4:30 p.m. and the concert begins at 5:00. To learn more and get tickets, visit aysymphony.org.