The Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra has been hailed as a “Venezuelan miracle”. In recent years it has literally stormed onto the international stage, instantly winning an army of fans and having already managed to perform under Claudio Abbado, Zubin Mehta and Sir Simon Rattle.
The basis of the Venezuelan miracle”, as is the case with many other miracles, lies in musical education en masse. In 1975, on the initiative of the musician, economist and politician José Antonio Abreu, a system began to be built which today includes all two hundred youth orchestras throughout the country. The idea was to educate children from the very poorest families in musical ensembles. Over the course of thirty years, five million people have passed through the Abreu system. As a result, Venezuela’s oil money has found a wonderful purpose, resolving a whole series of social problems, sharply increasing the level of culture and creating a world-class orchestra!
The current makeup of the Simón Bolívar Orchestra, strictly speaking, is no longer a “youthful” one, although the musicians have been known to perform wearing sports tops bearing the logo “Venezuela”. The ensemble remains, however, part of the system, and the country’s two hundred youth orchestras form its core staff.
Moreover, youth is part of its image. The musicians can appear looking completely classical and sound more than refined (for example when accompanying Magdalena Kožená in songs by Alban Berg). But the orchestra’s style is more than this. Since at least 1999 when the eighteen-year-old Gustavo Dudamel took over at the helm of the Simón Bolívar Orchestra, the most important quality of the “Bolívarians” has been the energy of these impassioned young Latin Americans. The orchestra is vast. Russian music performed by the Venezuelan musicians sounds temperamental and powerful. A performance of popular classical music can be transformed into an attraction with witty “tricks”. With regard to the music of Latin America, here Maestro Dudamel and his orchestra are in their element, and what they do at their concerts may be compared with the carnival in Rio.