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CULTURE | 07-04-2022 18:48

Miguel Ángel Estrella, pianist and Argentina's former ambassador to UNESCO, dies at 81

Tributes and condolences flood in after renowned pianist and Argentina's former ambassador to UNESCO dies in France at age 81.

Miguel Ángel Estrella, renowned pianist and Argentina's former ambassador to UNESCO, has died in France at age 81.

“The Argentine Delegation to UNESCO regretfully announces the death of Miguel Ángel Estrella, ambassador of Argentina to UNESCO and goodwill ambassador to UNESCO, pianist and founder of the non-governmental organisation Música Esperanza,” Argentina's Permanent Delegation to the UN agency announced on Twitter. 

A vocal supporter of human rights groups, the respected musician and former UNESCO goodwill ambassador famously spent over two years detained in Uruguay when the region was under dictatorship.


‘Fight with music’

Born in 1940 in Tucumán in Argentina's northwest, Estrella began playing piano at the age of 12, later studying at the National Conservatory of Argentina in Buenos Aires before continuing his musical education in Paris with Marguerite Long and Nadia Boulanger. 

The musician then returned to Argentina but he was forced into exile in 1976, persecuted by Argentina's 1976-1983 military dictatorship. He was detained one year later in Uruguay, which was also governed at that time by a military dictatorship, where he remained for 27 months before being freed in 1980 under strong international and diplomatic pressure, including from renowned artists such as Yehudi Menuhin. 

“I want to fight with music against those who want to subjugate us,” Estrella used to say.

At the time of his death, the musician was the head of the Casa Argentina at the Cité Universitaire in Paris, where he received and hosted Argentine students who came to the French capital, Estrella's place of residence since the 1980s, to study.

 

'At the service'

In 1982, Estrella founded the Música Esperanza  (“Music Hope”) NGO, through which he delivered concerts in diverse places such as prisons and disadvantaged neighbourhoods around the world, thus placing "music at the service of the human community and the dignity of every person,” as he once said. 

Estrella, who defined himself as a “Christian and Peronist,” also founded the Orquesta para la Paz (“Orchestra for Peace”) in 1988 with Muslim, Jewish and Christian musicians living in the Middle East.

He was named Argentina's permanent delegate to UNESCO in 2003, a position he held until the end of 2015. 

In 2012, Estrella gave a famous concert at the Penal de Libertad (“Libertad Prison”), 50 kilometres west of Montevideo, where he had been incarcerated and suffered merciless torture. 

“When I was a prisoner it would never have occurred to me to return to Libertad Prison so many years later, but some friends told me, look ‘Chango,’ if we ever win, will you come to this place to make music? At that moment it was unimaginable,” Estrella told AFP on that occasion.

 

'A tremendous artist'

Estrella’s death prompted a wave of messages of love and condolences in Argentina, as artists, politicians and human rights organisations bid the beloved pianist farewell. 

“With immense pain we say goodbye to the great Argentine musician Miguel Ángel Estrella, former Argentine ambassador to UNESCO and warrior for human rights. Farewell dear Miguel,” tweeted Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. 

Human rights group HIJOS (“Children,” referring to the disappeared) remembered him as “a tremendous artist, a survivor of the dictatorship, who built spaces for equality and inclusion.” 


— TIMES/AFP
 

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