- The Washington Times - Monday, May 25, 2009

CARACAS, Venezuela — Orchestras for children and teenagers inspired by Venezuela’s trendsetting network of youth orchestras have been springing up from Sao Paulo to Scotland as international interest explodes, the program’s founder said Friday.

The National System of Youth and Children’s Orchestras of Venezuela, known here simply as “the System,” has nurtured a hotbed of young talent since its 1975 launch while providing free instruments and instruction to children from the country’s poorest barrios.

New orchestras modeled on the Venezuelan teaching system have been popping up increasingly in other countries across the Americas, including about 10 new orchestras in recent months, founder Jose Antonio Abreu said.

“They’re being created practically every day,” he said.

Mr. Abreu, a 70-year-old former congressman, started the program in hope of one day providing all Venezuelan children access to quality music education. Since then, it has grown to include about 150 youth orchestras and 70 children’s orchestras and more than 250,000 students across the nation.

The program’s star graduate, 28-year-old conductor Gustavo Dudamel, debuts in October as musical director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

The sensation that he and other young Venezuelan virtuosos have caused has captured the eye of some of classical music’s biggest names. Next month, Mr. Dudamel will conduct his Simon Bolivar Youth Symphony Orchestra in separate concerts with violinist Itzhak Perlman and cellist Yo-Yo Ma in Caracas. [The orchestra gave a concert in Washington’s Kennedy Center in April.]

“The System has generated a true phenomenon in the world of soloists and conductors,” Mr. Abreu told reporters. “There are world-class conductors and soloists who ask to come” to Venezuela to participate in the program, allowing Venezuelan children to soak up extra knowledge from their famous visitors, he said.

Berlin Philharmonic music director Sir Simon Rattle plans to visit next year, he added.

The System, financed by the Venezuelan government for more than three decades, lets students learn largely by practice, and music theory is introduced along the way. Children as young as 3 begin with singing and xylophone playing. An instrument is chosen according to each one’s inclination and ability and provided free for the majority who can’t afford one. Many of their teachers were trained through the same system.

The Venezuelan musicians have received collaboration proposals from as far away as South Africa, Namibia, Egypt and Kenya and have seen their program replicated in Guatemala, Peru, Brazil, Haiti and the Dominican Republic in recent months, Mr. Abreu said.

Mr. Dudamel hopes to expand youth orchestras in Los Angeles, and Mr. Abreu said there has been interest in starting similar programs in Boston, Baltimore, Washington and Denver. “The System is going to grow enormously in the United States,” he said.

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