Awakening passions and fighting against routine

«All these years, young people have taught me that all efforts carried out [by] and toward them always bear results that go beyond any ambition. New generations are always productive and the more we approach them, the more they can return the dedication [we show] them.» That is how Jose Antonio Abreu, founder of the now famous El Sistema program – a project that provides musical education mostly to poor, underprivileged children – described what he has learned from his years of experience at a press conference in Athens yesterday. The Caracas-based Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra – the apex of El Sistema, which comprises dozens of youth orchestras and choirs across the country – will perform Beethoven’s «Symphony No 5» and Stravinsky’s «Rite of Spring» at the Herod Atticus Theater tonight, under the baton of the young and gifted Gustavo Dudamel, its artistic director since 1999. It is the orchestra’s first appearance in Greece. Yesterday afternoon, Abreu, the visionary who founded El Sistema (its full name being the National System of Youth and Children’s Orchestras of Venezuela) in 1975 and helped it develop, presented the project at the Athens Concert Hall, where selected orchestra members gave short performances. The critically acclaimed orchestra recently performed in Sweden, Norway, Russia and Poland and, as Abreu informed the audience at the press conference, is scheduled to appear at the Granada International Festival of Music and Dance after its Athens concert. «There are many educational systems that have ostracized music, although music is a fundamental part of education,» he said. «Our country has given music a primary role. We want music to reach all children and young people in the country – especially those who are poor – not only in Caracas, but in all provinces. It took 35 years to build such a wide network but today a system of youth orchestras and choirs exists in 24 provinces in Venezuela, comprising a total of 300,000 children and young people.» Dudamel was one of those children. The distinguished maestro started playing the violin at an early age before turning to conducting and won great recognition after winning the Gustav Mahler Conducting Competition in Germany in 2004. Today, though only 29 years old, other than being the driving force behind the Simon Bolivar Orchestra, he is also music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic as well as the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra and has frequently collaborated as guest conductor with the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonic orchestras, among others. «This is the orchestra I grew up in and with which I have been playing for 11 years – it is like a fraternity,» said Dudamel, when asked what it feels like to conduct the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra. «In my first year as music director in Los Angeles, we created a small orchestra network and there are two youth orchestras running already. The same thing is happening in Gothenburg: A project with a youth orchestra in a financially disadvantaged area is starting out. What is most important is to unite our efforts and convey Abreu’s message, our common ground being [the belief in] conducting social work through music.» Abreu believes in the power of music, which is also his source of inspiration. «For me, musical education contains a moral dimension, because we are all incorporated in the daily orchestral and choral practice,» he said. «Orchestras and choirs encourage feelings of solidarity and teamwork among their members, along with the struggle to improve ourselves. Each musician aspires to play harder each time, to try to command their instrument or voice and represent the country with honesty and dignity. Venezuela for us is a huge orchestra of dreams, incorporated in another orchestra, that of the [whole of] Latin America, which coexists with the Caribbean, Spain and Portugal in a vast community.» «In Venezuela, the youth choirs and orchestras are part of a social program that is directly under the aegis of the country’s vice-presidency; it is one of the most important social programs,» Abreu said, adding that this system has been adopted by many other countries as well. «It has already taken off in all Latin American countries, in Scotland, Italy, Spain; it is now starting in Portugal and recently we agreed to establish it in Russia as well.» Abreu said that in Greece he hoped to not only demonstrate the results of the orchestra’s work but also to establish a strong and continuous relationship with the country’s youth. He added his dream is to create a Greek-Venezuelan orchestra, with approximately 200 kids from each country, as a token of the two countries’ friendship in the field of cultural. He spoke very warmly about his meetings with Greek musicians, especially with composer Mikis Theodorakis, whom he saw just before the press conference; he said that Dudamel is currently working on presenting two of Theodorakis’s works, including «Canto General.» Abreu also paid great tribute to Greek composer, conductor and music teacher Yannis Ioannidis, who spent many years in Venezuela teaching composition at the Metropolitan University in Caracas. «Many Venezuelan composers were his students,» he said. Given the growing international attention and success the orchestra is enjoying, one cannot help but wonder what the driving force behind the inspirational Dudamel is. «I don’t teach [musicians] anything special, other than music itself, which awakens passion,» said the young maestro. «What is most important, for musicians and artists in general, is to try and fight against routine. Routine destroys the special magic that art contains. I always tell all the people I conduct to remember the reason why we are musicians. We never thought of it as a job but as an emotion and pleasure. If you can maintain the motive, then you can create deep emotions.» Greek Festival box office, 39 Panepistimiou, tel 210.327.2000,