Monday, February 22, 2010

Meeting Two of El Sistema's Ambassadors

Where do you get to meet the world's leading conductors Gustavo Dudamel and Claudio Abbado on the same weekend? In Caracas, of course, celebrating the 35th anniversary of El Sistema. Both conductors are deeply committed to this inspiring youth music program and see youth mentorship as an essential part of a professional orchestra’s work. Their hope is that more orchestras throughout the US and Europe will take up the same charge and understand how important the musical development of youth are to the future of orchestras and symphonic music. Dudamel and Abbdado give their time and expertise to these young orchestras and are working to develop El Sistema programs in Los Angeles and Italy, respectively.

Dudamel powerfully articulated the LA Phil’s commitment to youth music programs when he opened the LA Philharmonic season conducting students alongside LA Phil musicians. This gesture earned him ABC’s Person of the Week: Gustavo Dudamel's First Concert With the L.A. Philharmonic - ABC News

The fellows hope to enroll more American symphonies in this important work. I was honored to meet Dudamel after an incredible performance of the Simon Bolivar A Orchestra (consisting of El Sistema teachers and founding members) and was able to share with him my plans to work with the community of Juneau, Alaska, to start an El Sistema-inspired program there.

In keeping with El Sistema's philosophy of early access to instrumental instruction, our hope is to pilot an initiative at Glacier Valley Elementary School where all of the kindergarten classes will learn Suzuki violin alongside their teachers during the school day. I just wrote my first grant proposal to help fund the purchase of a classroom set of violins and am keeping my fingers crossed!

I was able to present Dudamel with an Alaskan pin to signify that his advocacy of El Sistema USA is expanding to a northern neighbor in Juneau, Alaska.

Maestro Abbado was kind enough to meet some of the fellows after a rehearsal with the Simon Bolivar B Orchestra, which will perform Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 next Wednesday night. When I shared with the concertmaster of the Simon Bolivar B Orchestra how expressive and passionate the orchestra played together during the rehearsal, moving like waves across the stage, he said, "You haven't seen anything yet. Just wait for Wednesday night's performance." Here's a photo from their rehearsal. It's hard to capture the intensity and energy behind their playing in a still photo, but I can testify that I have never seen anything like it before in my life! I can't wait for Wednesday night!

My colleague, Christine Witkowski, posted a beautiful reflection on the Saturday morning performance by the Teresa Carreno Youth Orchestra, made up of El Sistema musicians ages 12 - 16. I couldn't express our experience more eloquently. Please read her blog, Key Changes, describing this incredible orchestra.

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