Top classical musicians flock to Venezuela youth

Wed Jun 3, 2009 7:11pm EDT
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By Frank Jack Daniel

CARACAS (Reuters) - Many of the finest performers in the classical music world are flocking to Venezuela to get a taste of the country's lauded youth music education system that teaches kids from gritty streets to play in orchestras.

Over the next few weeks, a string of eminent musicians will visit the capital Caracas for concerts with the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra conducted by 28-year-old Venezuelan Gustavo Dudamel, one of classical music's hottest properties.

It is Venezuela's premier youth orchestra, made up mostly of teenagers picked from a network of such orchestras set up around the South American country to teach music to children.

The musicians, including cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Grammy-winning pianist Emanuel Ax and violinist Itzhak Perlman, will be seen by thousands of budding players from the network of music schools in poor neighborhoods that is known as "the system."

In the system, students from across the country -- from distant Amazon villages to tough Caracas slums -- are recruited to join music schools in which they are given an instrument to play as part of an orchestra.

In recent years, it has been supported by President Hugo Chavez. About 300,000 children are now involved.

"The system has generated a true phenomenon," said Jose Abreu, who founded it in 1975. "World-famous conductors and soloists request to come, they feel proud to take part."

"Emanuel Ax a year ago, for example, was inaccessible, impossible to even dream of contracting, with giant costs, and now he asks to come here, this is now a profound phenomenon," Abreu added.   Continued...

<p>Israeli violinist Itzhak Perlman (L) speaks at a news conference with Venezuelan conductor and violinist Gustavo Dudamel and Venezuelan pianist and educator Jose Antonio Abreu (R), in Caracas June 3, 2009. REUTERS/Alejandro Rustom</p>