Recording of the Week Venezuelan Youth Orchestra the envy of the world
Placido Domingo cried when he saw the Venezuelan Youth Orchestra perform. The world-renowned opera singer confessed that the concert evoked the strongest emotions he had ever felt. Sir Simon Rattle, director of the Berlin Philharmonic, swore that the country's youth orchestras were doing the most important work in classical music anywhere in the world. And former Berlin Philharmonic director Claudio Abbado only needed to see one performance by the orchestra to invite the Venezuelans to play in Germany.
Called El Sistema by its members, the programme is celebrating 30 years of making classical musicians out of half-a-million young Venezuelans, and it has transformed the lives of many underprivileged and at-risk youths in the process. Founder Jose Antonio Abreu describes it as helping "the fight of a poor and abandoned child against everything that opposes his full realisation as a human being".
One of Mr Abreu's musicians is Lennar Acosta, 23, who six years ago was already making his ninth visit to a Caracas correctional facility after a history of heavy drug use and armed robbery. While the facility denied Mr Acosta's request to return to school, the youth orchestra took him on as a student and soon gave him a scholarship. He now earns his living at a music institute, has played a dozen times in the nation's famed Teresa Carreno music hall, and is studying to perform Mozart's clarinet concerto. "One of the biggest emotions I've felt was when they gave me a clarinet," Mr Acosta said, sitting with his instrument in hand in a Caracas music conservatory. "El Sistema ended up straightening me out. It is my family, like my home."
There are now over 200 youth orchestras in Venezuela and thirty professional orchestras. And with young conducting sensation Gustavo Dudamel (himself a product of the sistema) now a DG artist you have the opportunity to hear the Simón Bolívar Venezuelan Youth Orchestra perform. They’ve released two discs so far - the most recent a fiery recording of Mahler 5 (about which more in new releases below).
They are also at the Proms on Sunday. If you can’t go you must listen - it starts at 6:30 and is live on BBC4 and on Radio 3. The second half, where they play the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story and then some Latin American works is likely to be one of the highlights of the season. If you can’t wait until then or want to read more then check out these special websites for their two releases to date (Beethoven 5 and 7 - Mahler 5)