On Wednesday, July 14, I had a chance to see renowed Venezuela Youth and Children`s Symphony and Chorale program in action. I attended a symphanic performance of Georges Bizet’s Opera “Carmen” at the Terresa Carreño opera house in Caracas. Opera singers from Venezuela, Europe and the United States came to sing the solo vocal parts, The performance did not include stage sets or acting, but was in the style of an operetta. The show made the papers in Caracas the next day. What was newsworthy about it was that it was performed by the Youth Symphony, made up of players in their late teens and early 2os, and conducted by Sir Simon Rattle, director of the prestigious Berlin Philarmonic orchestra. Sir Rattle was quoted as saying he was here to conduct a great orchestra, not do anyone a favor.
It was a great performance. The enthusiasm and competence of the players was really fun to watch. They were having such a good time, it became infectious. The applause and whoops from the audience was not what you picture at an opera.
All of these performers came up through the Venezuela Youth and Children`s Symphony and Chorale program, created by conductor Jose Antonio Abreu 35 years ago. He lamented the lack of native-born musicians in Venezuelan symphony orchestras; at that time, almost all the players were imported from foreign countries. (One of them was my good friend Harold Aschmann, who played for the Caracas symphony from 1983-1988) Abreu decided to do something about it.
Today, Abreu`s program has gotten worldwide acclaim. It reaches across the country and beyond, and gives young players, many from poorer families, a chance to become classically trained musicians. The charismatic young director of the L.A. Philarmonic, Gustavo Dudamel, got his start here.
This concert makes a visitor consider the resilence of Venezuelans. In the midst of political tensions, severe economic problems, and street chaos, people still find a way to make excellent art happen.