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Wednesday, February 22, 2017
- Venezuela’s youth orchestras have gotten used to wild applause and standing ovations in Europe.
But this time the warm reception was not for the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra, the most visible face of the National System of Youth and Children’s Orchestras of Venezuela (FESNOJIV), a network of youth and children’s orchestras that has put instruments and music scores in the hands of 400,000 children and young people.
The concert held in Vienna’s Konzerthaus on Thursday Sept. 27 before an audience of 1,800 people featured the less experienced Caracas Youth Symphony Orchestra.
The orchestra, whose 170 members are between the ages of 14 and 25, is about to complete a tour that has taken it to Ravello, Italy; Prague, Czech Republic; St. Petersburg, Russia; Ghent, Belgium; and the Austrian capital. The last stop is the Beethovenfest in Bonn.
“This audience that has gone crazy here has always been very demanding, shaped over decades by a repertoire like the one we present and which can be a challenge for any orchestra,” Dietrich Paredes, the orchestra’s 29-year-old conductor who was previously first violin, or concertmaster, told reporters in the dressing room in Vienna.
On Thursday, every piece was wildly applauded, like Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Francesca di Rimini, Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10, Bacchanale by Camille Saint-Saens, Johann Strauss I’s Radetzky March, Klaus Wunderlich’s Tico Tico and Leonard Bernstein’s Mambo.
The spectators applaud and applaud until even the most reluctant are on their feet, and the youngsters in the orchestra pull off their yellow, blue and red jackets – the colours of the Venezuelan flag – and toss them to the audience, in what has become a tradition.
“The public is fascinated because these marvellous interpretations by people who are so young are a gift to the heart,” said Karl Schagerl, representing the Konzerthaus. “And for us, as a musical city and a musical country, it is important for the world of politics to see how important the music of these orchestras is for society.”
For over three decades, FESNOJIV, known in Venezuela simply as “the system”, has been one of this South American country’s outstanding achievements. Hundreds of thousands of children, adolescents and young adults have received a musical education in 90 preschool, 130 children’s, 288 youth and over 30 professional orchestras throughout Venezuela.
The system also has choirs – the Simón Bolívar National Youth Choir was performing in the United States while the Caracas Youth Symphony Orchestra toured Europe – guitar-making workshops, orchestras in prisons, a conservatory, and thousands of music teachers dispersed around the country.
From this nursery for young talent emerge musicians like Carlos Vargas, a percussionist who was named to the leadership of the youth orchestra and who stressed “the way these European audiences, for whom we play European music, have received us.”
Paredes’ explanation is that “the Caracas orchestra has a unique character that makes all the difference. For these very grown-up audiences, who are used to performances by orchestras made up of top-quality professionals, it’s something different to see an orchestra of young people who have such a particular sense of rhythm, strength, style and energy.”
Vargas told IPS “for us it is an honour and a pleasure to be on these stages, but it is also a challenge, because this is where so many leading composers and orchestras have worked and performed.”
Europe, he said, “has always had youth orchestras, but as a programme to train their musicians. We see it as a way of life.”
Andrés Rivas, 22, a concertmaster who is now a budding conductor, said his new responsibility was “first and foremost a privilege in a world where orchestras seek experienced conductors. That is why my wish is to direct this orchestra in the best theatres, and for the orchestra to get better and better.”
“We also want to continue transmitting our knowledge to the children, to the kids of the coming generations. We already have the future: this is it,” Rivas told IPS.
They said the system did not favour the Venezuelan capital at the expense of the regions. When the Caracas youth orchestra goes on international tours – like the current European tour or previous ones in China, South Korea, Norway, Portugal or Colombia – they invite musicians from youth orchestras in the provinces.
When the members of the youth orchestras talk about their experience, they invariably underscore the work of and the example set by their maestro, musician and economist
José Antonio Abreu, who founded the system in 1975 after inviting a dozen youngsters to start practicing in a basement parking lot.
Year after year, Abreu has led the initiative – which won Spain’s prestigious Prince of Asturias Award for the Arts in 2008 – raising funds, creating new projects, accompanying the youngsters on many of their trips, and helping other countries replicate the system.
Fortunately for the system, it has remained on the margins of the political polarisation in Venezuela, where President Hugo Chávez, in power since 1999, is set to win another term on Oct. 7, according to the polls.
Since the system was created, it has had the support of every administration. In the last year, it received 127 million dollars in public funds.