Dr. José Antonio Abreu of Venezuela and 'El Sistema'

In 1975 Dr. José Antonio Abreu of Venezuela, an exemplar of some remarkable ideals who was born in 1939, began the work for which he is most famous: founding the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra and the National Symphony Youth Orchestra (NSYO).

The success of the NSYO led to the establishment of youth orchestras in other Venezuelan states, and eventually to the development of the National System of Youth and Child Orchestras of Venezuela, popularly known as 'El Sistema'.

'El Sistema' now involves 110,000 Venezuelans, grouped in 120 youth orchestras, 60 children’s orchestras, and a network of choirs, with musical training starting from the age of 2. The orchestras are based on 75 'cells' in every province of the country. There are also workshops in which children learn to build and repair instruments as well as special music-therapy programs for children with disabilities or learning difficulties.

Oriented toward lower-income and even abandoned children, 'El Sistema' has been described as “a social movement of massive dimensions, that works using music as the instrument that makes the social integration of different Venezuelan population groups possible'” It has been credited with improving the lives of scores of young people who might otherwise have been drawn into lives of crime and drug abuse. The orchestras have had a substantial social impact in the communities in which they are active. Studies have also shown that the young people involved in the orchestras also perform better in other areas of academic and social life.

'El Sistema' has been the subject of acclaimed international media attention, and it was the subject of the documentary film Tocar y Luchar ('To Play and to Struggle').

Dr. Abreu’s unique system of musical education and awakening has attracted much international notice and acclaim and has inspired similar initiatives in other Latin American and Caribbean countries. The Venezuelan National Symphony Children’s Orchestra excited much admiration in Europe in 1998, with a tour through France and Italy, and again in 2000, when it performed around Germany.

The Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra has been celebrated internationally in performances under the baton of the young conductor Gustavo Dudamel who has been the orchestra's artistic director since 1999. The orchestra and Dudamel have made some acclaimed recordings including symphonies by Beethoven and Mahler for Deutsche Grammophon. In 2007, they made much-heralded debuts at the Proms in London (a concert broadcast live on BBC TV) and at Carnegie Hall in New York. To date the most visible and admired product of 'El Sistema' has been the appointment of Duhamel as Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2009.

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