By Patricia Boccadoro
PARIS, 6 NOVEMBER 2009 "Stupendous! Best concert of
the year!" Such was the verdict of an enthusiastic Parisian audience on
the first appearance of the talented young Gustavo Dudamel at the Salle
Pleyel on October 24th, where he conducted the Orchestre Philharmonique de
Radio France, followed by the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela,
before the two orchestras were united in a rendering of Berlioz'
Symphonie fantastique which truly lived up to its name and had
the normally sedate Parisian audience on its feet, waving flags and
clapping and screaming for more!
The first part of the programme, Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé,
inspired by the love of a Greek shepherd for the nymph, Chloé, captured by
pirates but restored to him by Pan, was actually commissioned by Diaghilev
for the Ballet Russes. It is a vast musical fresco, one of the most
beautiful scores in the history of French music, but written essentially
for dance. Dudamel however, succeeded in telling the whole story
musically, for not only did he seem to be playing each of the instruments
himself, he communicated his own sensitivity and passion to each and every
member of the orchestra, making the score unique in its own right and no
longer subsidiary to dance. The interpretation was stunning.
Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Adolfo Dudamel
(b. 1981, Barquisimeto, Venezuela)
And yet more was to follow with the appearance of the young Venezuelan
musicians on stage with a most exciting rendering of their native
composer, Evencio Castellanos' Santa Cruz de Pacairigua. It
demonstrated yet again the young conductor's ability to convey his
exceptional enthusiasm to members of his orchestra, not one being more
than 26 years of age.
With colourful changing rhythms, festive spirit, waltzes, ringing bells
and a percussion solo of what could almost be called African music, dance
again was at the heart of this intoxicating score, full of life, joy and
energy. Composed in 1954, it was created as a tribute to Vincente Emilio
Sojo, founder of the first Venezuelan orchestra in 1930.
And how aptly did Berlioz name his 1830 work, the Symphonie
fantastique. Romantic, elaborate, melodious, exhilarating and
electrifying by moments, the sound of the two orchestras together, with
between 200 and 250 musicians on stage, was something that no one
fortunate enough to be in the audience that night is likely to forget.
Balls and waltzes again had their place in the complex work where life,
death and grief were interspersed by moments of intense happiness.
Dudamel, at only 28 years of age, is in the process of revolutionising
classical music, his head of shiny black curls dancing along with the
music of Ravel, Berlioz and Castellanos, the Latin American composer whose
joyous symphony warmed the hearts of all present.
Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar Youth
Orchestra of Venezuela
The story of the Venezuelan orchestra began in 1975 when the politician
and composer, José Antonio
Abreu, a man of great charm and generosity, gathered together a dozen
or so pupils to play music in a garage. The following day there were 25,
the next, 46, and so on.
His dream became to create a system of musical education throughout
Venezuela available to all children, not only those of privileged
families. In a country ravaged by poverty, drugs and gang warfare, El
Sistema (a programme financed by the state) thus came into being, its
task that of combating the feelings of failure and frustration rife in the
From the age of three and sometimes even before, children from every
level of society are given the opportunity to learn a musical instrument
with qualified teachers, the emphasis being put on sensitivity and
awareness of the beauty within the music. An instrument is put into their
hands and instead of wandering the streets after school, the children,
strongly supported by their families, learn how to live alongside each
other. They learn a certain discipline and their part of responsibility
within the micro-society created by the orchestra. Within 4 years, a child
of 8 who knew nothing of music is typically able to play a piece by
But they are not told that if they work, they will become musicians;
they are told that they are musicians and as often as is possible,
children throughout the country join orchestras and are given the
opportunity to play in public. They are encouraged each step of the way.
Six days a week, four hours a day. Every three months, the country's
finest orchestras organise auditions for some 300,000 applicants, every
child's dream being to integrate the Simon Bolivar orchestra as did
Gustavo Dudamel, whose own studies as a conductor, following his years of
playing the violin, began at 15.
But while the objective was primarily to save the children and give
some sense to their lives, over 30 professional orchestras have now sprung
up in the country producing more and more international soloists. Their
progress has been phenomenal, as are the concerts they give where their
love of music and of what they are doing is paramount.
"An orchestra," said Abreu, present at the concert in Paris, "is
happiness, commitment, team-work, plus a desire to succeed," an explosion
of joy illustrating his words as the two orchestras broke out into a
succession of Latin American tunes as their encore, musicians, instruments
and audience dancing around in a wild farandole!
After the concert on the 24th, Dudamel and Abreu were admitted into
France's prestigious Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in recognition of their
significant contributions to the arts. Gustavo Dudamel was made Chevalier
(knight) of the Order, an award he accepted in the name of his
'muchachos,' the remarkable young musicians of his Venezuelan orchestra,
while his teacher and mentor, José Antonio Abreu, deeply moved, was made
Officier of the Order for his extraordinary achievement in creating the
pioneering "Sistema" of musical education.
From September this year, Dudamel will also be conducting the Los
Latest recordings of the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, under the
label of Deutsche Grammophon, include the DVD "Live in Salzburg", a
documentary DVD "The Vision of Music," a recording of Tchaikovsky,
Beethoven's Symphonies N° 5 and 7 (which won the Prix Echo 2007 of the
Nouvel artiste de l'année), followed by Mahler's 5th Symphony, and in
2008, "Fiesta," which includes Latin -American melodies and "Mambo" by
Patricia Boccadoro is a culture critic and senior editor at
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