MUSIC LUMINARIES PRAISE A NEW PARADIGM
How is it possible that a country like Venezuela where more than 33% of the population live in poverty can use classical music as a powerful tool for enriching and saving the lives of poor children and – dare we suggest? – possibly even raising the country’s GDP up a notch?
How is it possible that hundreds of these children can come together as a choral and orchestral ensemble and play some of the most difficult pieces in the symphonic repertoire to world-class standards?
It has been going on for over 30 years, but it is only recently that the world-at-large has begun to ponder the words of wonderment uttered over the years by some of classical music’s luminaries who came to Venezuela to make music with the children, to witness, and to learn. Among those who first came were Zubin Mehta, the late Luciano Pavarotti and Guiseppe Sinopoli (shown below) and Placido Domingo (also shown below).
Today’s most fervent advocates of El sistema are Sir Simon Rattle, Music Director of the Berlin Philharmonic and his predecessor at the Philharmonic, Claudio Abbado who now directs the Lucerne Festival Orchestra. Abbado is of course well known for his abiding interest in the development of young musicians in Europe, founding the European Union Youth Orchestra in 1978 and the Gustav Mahler Jugend Orchestra in 1986. Both Rattle and Abbado have made acclaimed recordings of Mahler’s Symphonies. Below are some quotable quotes by them and others whose lives have been profoundly touched by El sistema.
SIR SIMON RATTLE (Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra: Principal Conductor – 2002 to present; Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Principal Guest Conductor/Principal Artist – 1992 to present; City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra: Principal Conductor and Artistic Adviser – 1980 to 1989, Music Director – 1990 to 1998):
“In my opinion, there is no more important work that is being done in music now than is being done in Venezuela.”
“These days I say, I have seen the future of music in Venezuela. I wish Mahler were here to see this as well. And maybe he will be.”
“It is so clear that the orchestra and the work that is being done in music here is not only enriching lives, but saving lives.”
“If anyone asked me where is there something really important going on now for the future of classical music, I would simply have to say – here in Venezuela. It is an emotional force of such power that it may take some time to assimilate what we’re seeing and hearing.”
“I think it is a matter that we have to remember – that music is always about something – it is not just itself. I think part of the reason that the audience gets these profound emotion from the musicians is that clearly it is the most important thing in the world to all of these kids and comes over loud and clear.”
“Part of the thing here is that the kids don’t expect things to be easy, and so they’re willing to work for what they can get. But part of the thing also is that they are much more able to make things better because there is not much of the culture of criticism. There is the culture of encouragement. If something goes wrong, everybody laughs about it. OK, that didn’t go right, but it will be better.”
“To see an orchestra of 800 children play not only wonderfully, but all phrasing in the same way and all being able to communicate backwards and forwards is unusual enough. We saw an orchestra where nobody’s feet touched the ground, literally. I heard the smallest orchestra in the world, conducted by one of the largest conductors in the world playing Marche Slav, led by an 8-year old who has no business having so much technique on a violin as any 8-year old. And more than anything else, I saw in everybody’s faces, what I have always believed music to be about – which is pure joy. Communication and joy!”
CLAUDIO ABBADO (Founder and Music Director, Lucerne Festival Orchestra – 2003-present; Chief Conductor, Berlin Philharmonic – 1989 to 2002; Music Director, Vienna State Opera – 1986 to 1991; Principal Conductor, London Symphony Orchestra – 1979 to 1987; Principal Guest Conductor, Chicago Symphony Orchestra – 1982 to 1986; Music Director, Teatro alla Scala – 1968 to 1986):
“Almost no one knows about what is going on in Venezuela. But to me, it is the example that every country should follow.” “What I have learned here is unbelievable. It is something moving. I don’t understand why no one else has thought of creating it this way.”
“I believe that from a musical, social and humanitarian perspective, from a cultural or political point of view, this is outstanding.”
“I did not expect such an impressive artistic level. It’s fantastic!”
PLACIDO DOMINGO (Tenor and Conductor, General Director: Los Angeles Opera, Washington National Opera):
“I did not expect to walk into heaven and hear celestial voices. The truth is, I have never felt so moved, not only because of the emotion of the moment, but I must say, because of the quality.”
EDUARDO MATA (Music Director, Dallas Symphony Orchestra – 1977-1993):
“The Youth Orchestra Project has the potential to change the sociological profile of a country with characteristics like those of Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, or Mexico. I think the project is fabulous, fabulous in it potential to be applied to these countries.”
MARK CHURCHHILL (Dean, New England Conservatory of Music):
“We think of social programs as providing food, shelter, housing and medical care. And obviously these are very important for people who don’t have these. But by feeding peoples’ souls, they will find a way to feed themselves and to house themselves and to find the basic human necessities. And at the same time grow into people of significance and contribution. When you establish the inner life of somebody, which is done so effectively through these music programs, then the possibility for these lives to contribute, to enhance and uplift society is endless.”
EDUARDO MATURET (Conductor and composer):
“It is an expression of Venezuelan beauty in a pure way, and most importantly, in a noble way – without distinctions but with identity. A meaningful identity that gives the movement and the sound of the orchestra a fingerprint impossible to erase.”
Source of quotes: The award-winning film by Alberto Alvero, Tocar y Luchar (To Play and To Fight), available on DVD, that tells the phenomenal story of El Sistema.
Credit: Images and video clip courtesy of and with permission of Deutsche Grammophon.