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EL SISTEMA FOUNDER JOSÉ ANTONIO ABREU WINS GLENN GOULD PRIZE

Photo: Gustavo Dudamel

By Culturekiosque Staff

NEW YORK, 19 FEBRUARY 2008 - Venezuelan musician, educator and economist Dr. José Antonio Abreu has been awarded the $50,000 Glenn Gould Prize. Dr. Abreu, 68, is the founder of the Foundation for the National Network of Youth and Child Orchestras of Venezuela ("El Sistema") that produced the young superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel.

In a press statement from the Toronto-based Glenn Gould Foundation, the five-member jury cited Dr. Abreu's "contribution to creating a cultural renaissance in Venezuela and making a marked impact on an entire generation of youth through music" when choosing him from a distinguished list of candidates nominated by the public. Jury Chair Paul Hoffert noted, "The jury was unanimous in its decision. We considered Glenn Gould's enormous impact on broadening audiences for music, transcending political boundaries, and achieving the highest level of excellence using innovative and sometimes controversial approaches. Previous Laureates of the triennial award include Pierre Boulez (2002); Yo-Yo Ma (1999); Oscar Peterson C.C. (1993); Lord Yehudi Menuhin (1990).

As a Glenn Gould laureate, Dr. Abreu will select an exceptional young musician, in any discipline, from anywhere in the world to receive the $10,000 City of Toronto - Glenn Gould International Protégé Prize in Music.

The Canadian foundation also pointed out that Dr. Abreu's unique contribution to the arts has withstood ten changes of governments in Venezuela ranging from the far right to the far left, all of which acknowledged and supported the musical and social objectives of El Sistema since its creation in 1975.

Top-drawer musicians from Venezuela who owe their formation to El Sistema include the members of the Simón Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela (SBYOV) and Gustavo Dudamel, its charismatic 27-year-old conductor, who has been named Music Director-designate of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Comprised of more than 200 young musicians between the ages of 14 and 24 and long mentored by musicians of the Berliner Philharmoniker among others, the SBYOV made much-heralded debuts in 2007 at the Edinburgh Festival, the Proms in London (a concert broadcast live on BBC TV) and at Carnegie Hall in New York where they performed mature works from the Austro-German repertoire, Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra, late Shostakovich, as well as the rarely heard music of Latin American composers. In addition, the orchestra and Dudamel have made well-received recordings - most recently, symphonies by Beethoven and Mahler for Deutsche Grammophon.

Explicitly oriented toward lower-income children, El Sistema or "The System" 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," and 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 programme has, for instance, taken on and rehabilitated abandoned children. 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 now involves 270,000 Venezuelans, grouped in 220 youth orchestras, 60 children's orchestras, and a network of choirs, with musical training starting from age 2. The orchestras are based on 75 "cells" around every province of the country; there are also workshops in which children learn to build and repair instruments, special music-therapy programs for children with disabilities or learning difficulties, and specialist centres or institutes for phonology, audiovisuals, and higher musical education.

Dr. Abreu's unique system of musical education and its flagship orchestra have received considerable praise in Europe from public and professionals-and has inspired similar initiatives in other Latin American and Caribbean countries. Having studied conducting with Dr. Abreu, the young maestro Gustavo Dudamel, who attracts connoisseurs as well as the much coveted younger audiences, hopes to achieve similar results with low-income children in Los Angeles when he becomes Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2009. It would seem that classical music has found its Barack Obama.

External Links

Gustavo Dudamel Web Site

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