El Sistema Venezuela

Caracas, Venezuela

Together with 11 young Venezuelan musicians, the Venezuelan economist and musician, José Antonio Abreu, founded the country’s first youth orchestra in Caracas in 1975. He thereby laid the foundation for “El Sistema”, a national network of music schools, orchestras and choirs that aimed at counteracting violence, drug abuse and child abandonment in socially disadvantaged districts. Today, more than forty years later, some 800,000 children are making music in over 400 music school across Venezuela – helping all on to the path to a better future.

El Sistema offers a sound musical training to children and young people, most of who come from deprived social groups. The main focus is not on private lessons, but learning in a group, in a community. For José Antonio Abreu an orchestra always has been and always will be the reflection of a functioning society. A goal can only be reached with the help of the positive combined effort of all those involved. Nevertheless, each individual’s contribution remains a decisive factor. This way, children assume their constructive role in society as a matter of course. Commitment, discipline, and diligence are essential prerequisites to make progress in this network. Reliability, punctuality, mutual support and responsibility are part of the code of conduct as is the willingness of the more advanced members of the orchestra to help the younger members.
In this way, the children and young people develop a new kind of awareness. They grow up with values that will help them also in everyday life, whatever their future career may be. Moreover, they strengthen their personality, and improve their self-confidence and sense of social responsibility.
For most of the children, the music school has become a second home. On at least five afternoons a week they participate in music lessons, play in the orchestra or sing in the choir. The frequency of the lessons alone is a guarantee for success, because the mutual motivation enables even the less talented children to advance further when compared with conventional music educational systems.

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Chances for Talents
Particularly talented children and young people have the opportunity to make a living through their talent – as soloists, orchestral musicians or teachers. Meanwhile, “El Sistema” operates more than 400 music schools, so-called “núcleos”, and 1,340 orchestras across Venezuela – ranging from beginners orchestras in the music schools to the “Simón Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela”, the project’s main ambassador. Since the late 90s, this touring orchestra has promoted the idea of “Music as a Life Opportunity” to the world and has inspired more than 300 projects across the globe to follow the example of “El Sistema”-based programmes.

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Gustavo Dudamel is one of them
The charismatic chief conductor of the Símon Bolívar Orchestra, Gustavo Dudamel, also had his musical beginnings in the project. At the age of 12 he was given the opportunity to lead the rehearsal of his youth orchestra and demonstrated his great talent. Years of training followed with Abreu, but also with world-renowned conductors including Sir Simon Rattle, Daniel Barenboim or the late Claudio Abbado, who worked in Venezuela time and time again over a period of several years. Today, Gustavo Dudamel not only makes music with “his Bolivars” and the children and youth orchestras of Venezuela, but has also made an international career as chief conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. Meanwhile, almost all of the world’s leading orchestras have played under the direction of Dudamel. He has become an idol for thousands of children and young people worldwide and has given classical music a new status among the younger generation. “The high art of music is no longer a social luxury”, said José Antonio Abreu in his opening speech at the Salzburg Festival in 2013. “Music for all” – this is the slogan under which Gustavo Dudamel will embark on future tours with the remarkable Venezuelan children and youth orchestra. The orchestra will perform on open-air stages and in stadiums with large capacities, rather than in renowned concert halls, so as to offer as many people as possible the opportunity to experience these concerts – regardless of their social background. Additionally, these tours will also focus in part on cooperations with Sistema-based programmes in different parts of the world. Dudamel is pursuing this goal with great personal commitment and dedication.

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El Sistema and the Hilti Foundation
The Hilti Foundation’s commitment to El Sistema aligns in many respects with its funding principles, as this project unites social, cultural and educational aspects in equal measure: for more than 40 years, music has given hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan youths from socially disadvantaged backgrounds the opportunity to escape poverty. Through commitment, discipline and consequent work many have even managed to become professional musicians and today are able to make a living with the help of music – as teachers, orchestral musicians or soloists.
One of Hilti Foundation’s key objectives is to work continuously on the quality of the project. The current support therefore primarily targets training and further education of teachers, including through the further education academy founded by Gustavo Dudamel in Venezuela. This institution offers regular master classes in cooperation with internationally renowned musicians - in turn, participating teachers share their acquired knowledge in their respective music schools.
Moreover, the Hilti Foundation will continue supporting the international tours of El Sistema’s leading orchestras. The Foundation is convinced that these orchestras make an essential contribution towards spreading the idea of social change through music.