Teen violin star is Venezuela's youngest conductor

Tue Jun 26, 2012 1:12pm EDT
 
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By Diego Ore

MARGARITA ISLAND, Venezuela (Reuters) - At 2 years old, he was given his first musical instrument: a "cuatro," or small four-string guitar. At 8, he cried with emotion at a brass band concert.

Now, at just 14, Jose Angel Salazar is Venezuela's youngest orchestra conductor - the latest prodigy from his nation's famed El Sistema (The System) music development program - and possibly the youngest in the world.

Since the mid-1970s El Sistema has taught hundreds of thousands of youths, many from impoverished homes in Venezuela's tough slums, to play in orchestras. Supporters say it gives them discipline, cuts truancy and boosts self-esteem.

"For a boy of 14 to be conducting an orchestra at the same time as going to school is a miracle that only happens in Venezuela," Salazar told Reuters in an interview last week on Margarita, the Caribbean island where he was born.

The teenager, who delights in the complex symphonies of Franz Schubert and overtures by Antonio Vivaldi, is the second of three siblings raised by two local schoolteachers.

At a concert that night, the other musicians applauded him warmly as he took the stage to conduct 40 other youngsters, many of them older than him. Smiling shyly, he raised his baton and silence fell before the first notes rang out.

After two pieces, he received a long standing ovation, with his proud family looking on from a private box.

Jose Antonio Abreu, a local pianist, politician and economics professor, founded El Sistema in 1975 to get poor youngsters off the street, especially in shantytown "barrios" with some of the highest murder rates in the world, by offering them a classical musical education focused on ensemble playing.   Continued...

 
Conductor Jose Angel Salazar, 14, leads the Youth Symphonic Orchestra of the Nueva Esparta state during a rehearsal in Margarita Island June 21, 2012. Salazar is Venezuela's youngest orchestra conductor - just the latest prodigy from his nation's famed El Sistema (The System) music development program - and possibly the youngest in the world. Since the mid-1970s El Sistema has taught hundreds of thousands of youths, many from impoverished homes in Venezuela's tough slums, to play in orchestras. Supporters say it gives them discipline, cuts truancy and boosts self-esteem. Picture taken June 21, 2012. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins