'On a Roll' Despite Global Slump, Brazil Must Address Inequality

Brazilian pianist Alexandre Dietrich chose compositions by Claudio Santoro, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Camargo Guarnieri and Ernesto Nazareth for a rare U.S. performance of Brazilian classical piano music on Wednesday.

In an evening at Jan Popper Theater, Consul General Jose Alfredo Graca Lima says that Brazil is facing its biggest problem, one of the world's most unequal distributions of wealth; and a rising Brazilian star, Alexandre Dietrich, plays selections of the country's classical piano music.

With its economy contracting only in the first half of 2009, Brazil "was one of the last in and the first out" of the global financial crisis, according to José Alfredo Graça Lima, the consul general of Brazil in Los Angeles. After the fast bounce back, the Brazilian economy is expected to grow about 5.5 percent this year.

"Because the economy was more driven by trade than domestic consumption, when the [worldwide] incomes rose a little bit, this had a big impact," Graça Lima explained.

Graça Lima

Brazilian Consul General José Alfredo Graça Lima

Speaking on March 17 in Jan Popper Theater, just before a piano recital by his countryman Alexandre Dietrich, Graça Lima said that Brazil was on course to surpass France and the United Kingdom in gross domestic product (GDP) in 2014. He said the country would leverage that growth in an ongoing drive to reduce its unequal distribution of wealth, one of the starkest in the world and "the greatest challenge faced by Brazilian society."

"Thirty to 40 million are excluded from the benefits of the economy," Graça Lima said, amid high rates of urban and rural poverty.

Graça Lima attributes the 80-plus percent approval ratings of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003–) to stepped-up public spending, especially on programs to fight hunger and keep children in school. Lula has simultaneously consolidated the economic stability achieved after 1994, when it fought off hyperinflation, according to the consul general.

The president is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term in office, so voters will pick his successor in October.

"The transition will be peaceful and further consolidate democracy," said Graça Lima. "Brazil seems to be on a roll."

Following the lecture and discussion, Dietrich, the pianist, played selections by turn-of-the-century and 20th-century Brazilian composers Claudio Santoro, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Camargo Guarnieri and Ernesto Nazareth. Dietrich's program showed something of the range of Brazil's contributions, not only among composers but within individual pieces that admit multiple influences and emotional registers.

Dietrich's star has been rising since his international debut in 2003 in Bordeaux, France, where he played concertos by Mozart and Chopin in the city’s First Piano and Orchestra Festival, organized by the Brazilian-born classical pianist Cristina Ortiz. He has successfully toured Belgium, France, Portugal, and Spain and won garlands in Latin America, including a first-place prize for his piano duo at the Chamber Music Competition in Curitiba, Brazil.

The March 17 event was cosponsored by the UCLA Center for Brazilian Studies – the only University of California center of its kind and part of the UCLA Latin American Institute – and the Consulate General of Brazil in Los Angeles.

Published: Friday, March 19, 2010