José Antonio Abreu, who has organized hundreds of monumental concerts on every kind of stage around the world, could not contain his emotion when he related the most recent phenomenon he had witnessed in the stadiums of Mérida and Barquisimeto during the year-end tour of the Simón Bolívar Symphonic Orchestra. “25,000 people in Mérida, 30,000 in Barquisimeto, thousands of children coming down from mountain villages, leaving their poor neighborhoods to hear Gustavo Dudamel conducting the orchestras, the local choirs, and the Simón Bolívar Symphonic Orchestra. A grand musical fiesta of uncommon proportions, something never seen before. We are perfecting the production of symphonic concerts in sports stadiums – the challenge of the future.” For the immediate future, it is our duty to satisfy the cultural thirst of an exploding youth with excellent performances within the titanic proportions of a stadium, but also with models that exchange the passive absorption of consumption for the affirmation of youth’s talent and intelligence.
This tour was a great event not just for the thousands of hearts that lived the epiphany of symphonic music – the colors, the astonishing synchronization, the sound poetry. Among the most attentive spectators was Marshall Marcus, Head of Music at London’s Southbank Centre, the United Kingdom’s largest arts center. Marcus knows our country well, having served as first violinist of the Caracas Philharmonic around 1980; he speaks Venezuelan Spanish and has returned here several times for various opportunities. This time, he came to bear witness to a phenomenon that is impressing many specialists – the birth of new forms of presentation for a music that seemed drained of its capacity to move people; forms that awaken a new aesthetic sense framed in a social and pedagogical purpose. “I understand it when a young audience gets emotional with Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. What surprises me is the attention with which they listened to Francesca da Rimini – a much more difficult and profound piece,” he commented to me. For decades, the European musical eminences have seen Venezuela develop revolutionary educational tools based on a cultural heritage bequeathed to us from the Old World. They want to refresh their own educational programs, adjusting the plans that have distanced their youth from the healthy practice of a musical form that strengthens social integration and keeps violence at bay, that fosters teamwork and sharpens the perception of complex abstractions: the orchestra. Youth orchestra nuclei based on our System of Youth and Children’s Orchestras [El Sistema] now exist in England, Scotland, and the United States.
Alisa Weilerstein is an extraordinary young cellist whose presence on this tour confirmed that the hottest place in music is perhaps here in Venezuela. Her parents are distinguished music professors in Boston and form part of an important group of North Americans engaged in reaffirming the pre-eminence of cultural relations, developing educational ties of respect and cooperation between our cities. It is probable that this relationship is symbiotic: if they can show us how to perfect our instrumental interpretation, we can show them how to “play and fight.” *
* “Play and fight” refers to the “Tocar y Luchar” motto of Venezuela’s National System of Youth and Children’s Orchestras, El Sistema.
Translated from Spanish by Rosemary Holland