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 Recording of the Week  El Sistema

Three decades ago, the visionary Venezuelan musician and politician José Antonio Abreu founded an organisation nicknamed El Sistema (The system). It is a government funded national program of music education designed as a model for social improvement, and its story is truly remarkable.

I imagine a number of readers will have already heard of the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela and its conductor Gustavo Dudamel. Their five recordings for DG combined with their performances around the world have already given them worldwide acclaim, but this orchestra includes just the very few top young players from Venezuela and, welcome though it is, the real aim of El Sistema is not this orchestra, but to change the lives of hundreds of thousands of young people, by giving them new hope and leading them out of the vicious circle of poverty which so many of them are in.

Gustavo Dudamel & El Sistema
Gustavo Dudamel & El Sistema

Paul Smaczny, (the director of the 2006 International Emmy Award winning film “Knowledge is the Beginning" about Daniel Barenboim and his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra,) has made a film about how El Sistema really functions by following three young people through their daily lives for a whole year, and it has just been released on DVD and Blu-ray by Medici Arts. The stories of these children are both moving and heartbreaking. The fear that so many of these children live in is hard to comprehend, with violence and guns part of their everyday lives, but then the fire in their eyes and the joy in their faces when they are playing their instruments seems to transport them to another world.

The interviews are all very interesting, both from the children who talk with such passion and conviction about what they are doing, and from Dr. Abreu (whom the kids fondly call ‘grandpa’) who explains his aims and objectives behind the project. I think there is still a common perception in much of the world that Classical Music is an exclusive thing enjoyed only by the minority. In Venezuela, thanks to Dr. Abreu, it is the complete opposite - the one thing regardless of class and wealth which is truly inclusive, and which can be enjoyed by everyone.

This documentary is superbly well put together, portraying the struggles of their everyday lives along with the hope that they find through their music. You can really understand how the experience is changing their lives for the better and it is all really very moving. It is available on DVD and Blu-ray and I have put the trailer of the film on the website to give you an idea.

El Sistema - Blu-ray

Music to Change Life

Available Format: Blu-ray