Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Classical Music Revolution

Venezuela is in the news now for admittedly the wrong reasons. President Hugo Chavez's widely-criticized referendum saw Venezuelans voting to lift limits on terms in office and so allow him to run for re-election in 2012.

Clearly, the promise of economic and political revolution in Venezuela seems less achievable now in the face of rampant crime (that accounted for 13,000 people in 2007), entrenched corruption and a 30 percent inflation rate in 2008.

But a dramatic revolution is already underway in the country’s classical music world.
'El Sistema' (The System), a music-education program started in 1975 by economist and musician José Antonio Abreu, is working miracles in the lives of disadvantaged and at-risk children in the country. The program puts musical instruments into young hands, trains and nurtures them, provides a sense of belonging (through youth orchestras set up around the country) and then lets the power of classical music do the rest. Countless stories have emerged of youngsters putting behind the despair of impoverished homes and the aimlessness of life-on-the-streets to excel and take pride in performing the music that was once considered the preserve of the elite.

And the beauty of the program is that it is not characterized merely by good intentions. The quality of their exuberant music-making and the conviction in their performances has turned world-renowned classical musicians into enthusiastic fans of the program.

  • One Venezuelan Youth Orchestra performance brought Placido Domingo to tears.
  • Simon Rattle considers the program among the most important initiatives anywhere in the classical music world.
  • The Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra made its Carnegie Hall debut in 2007.
  • 27-year-old conducting prodigy, Gustavo Dudamel, a product of ‘El Sistema’, who leads the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra through stirring performances at concerts around the world, is set to take over as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He already has that most sought-after of trophies in the industry - a recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon. (Simon Rattle is believed to have called him the most prodigiously gifted young conductor in the world today).
  • And perhaps, the most fitting tribute to the program has come from over twenty nations around the globe who have decided to emulate El Sistema's model and bring purpose and healing to youth in their own regions; through classical music.
For more information on this program, visit

José Antonio Abreu was awarded the TED prize in 2009. Click here (Jose Antonio Abreu: Help me bring music to kids worldwide) for his inspiring talk and his amazing story.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Ivan,
    First - Congrats on your blogging venture.
    Second - Congrats on choosing to write on something that is so close to your heart and has shaped your outlook and who you are.
    I hope I can see your blog very soon in the The Top 50 Classical Music Blogs.
    I guess now I know the Rolls-Royce Phantom comes after Classical music.
    I am an 'ignoramus' as far as Classical Music goes, so thanks for writing for readers like me so that we can relate to it a bit more.
    Look forward to seeing regular updates on your blog.