Friday, November 7, 2008

In Review--The Venezuelan Solution to Youth Violence

Gustavo Dudamel & Simòn Bolìvar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela
Beethoven 5 & 7

Deusche Grammophon

The connection between Venezuelan youth and Beethoven might not seem an obvious one at first. Imagine, a youth orchestra comprised of children once at-risk, but now leaving an impression on international classical music lovers. Conductor Gustavo Dudamel (25 years old at the time of this recording), revealed his connection to the Great German composer Ludwig van Beethoven in the liner notes.

"As a six-year old, Gustavo Dudamel's favorite game was to line up his toy soldiers in orchestral formation to conduct them in an imaginary performance of Beethoven's 5th Symphony. By the time he was twelve, he was conducting his local youth orchestra. Two years later he had his own chamber orchestra. At 17, he became chief conductor of the Simòn Bolìvar Youth Orchestra…"

According to the liner notes, Dudamel grew up in Barquisimeto, the capital of the state of Lara. "In a country where 75% of the population lives below the poverty line, crime and violence are a way of life for many. If it had not been for music, Dudamel freely admits, he might have ended up on the streets." And he's not the only young musician that might have or formerly went that route. You will find others and their stories mentioned also in the liner notes.

In Venezuela (population of 22 million), exists 125 youth orchestras, 57 children's orchestras, and 30 adult professional symphony orchestras. Noted musical figures such as Claudio Abbado, Zubin Mehta, Placido Domingo and the late Luciano Pavarotti have worked with Venezuelan orchestral talent. And all of this began with one visionary, Josè Antonio Abreu, (organist, economist and politician), who resolved to do something about the problems in his country 30 years ago.

"At the time, there were just two symphony orchestras in Venezuela, both employing largely European musicians. Abreu gathered eleven youngsters in an underground car park, and told them that they were making history. At the next rehearsal, there were 25 musicians, the following day, 46; and the next day after, 75." And so began a fabulous venture that not only saved children's lives through musical expression, but also put Venezuela's symphony orchestras on the map.

Dudamel chose Beethoven's 5th Symphony because he thought that the symphony travels from anger in its first movement to hope in its last majestic movement. He chose the 7th Symphony because it represented hope to him. He also mentioned the popular "fate knocking on the door" theme of Beethoven's 5th Symphony.

So instead of playing the usual rock music to deal with repressed anger and hopelessness, listen to Beethoven's 5th Symphony. And never give up hope that music can change the world, and in fact, it is already doing that. In Venezuela, it is one youth at a time and this same recipe can apply to youth internationally using traditional and classical music. or