A System of Prodigies
Founded in 1975 by economist and musician José Antonio Abreu, Venezuela's El Sistema program has garnered international attention with prodigy alumnus well-known throughout the classical world, the most famous of which is 31-year-old Gustavo Dudamel
, now music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. We'll have Dudamel back this season in May leading the LA Phil for Penderecki, Mozart and Mendelossohn
El Sistema is made up of Venezuela's 125 youth orchestras and the instrumental training programmes which make them possible. The organization has 31 symphony orchestras, and between 310,000 to 370,000 children attend its music schools around the country.
Another El Sistema alumnus is Edicson Ruiz, a double-bassist who at 17 became the youngest musician to join the Berlin Philharmonic. Ruiz joined El Sistema at the age of 11, and in 2001, was awarded the first prize in the youth solo competition at the International Society of Bassists convention held in Indianapolis. After his first concert in Germany, he was offered a place in the Berlin Philharmonic, becoming a full member after only one year of training.
And we have yet another El Sistema prodigy: Venezuela's youngest conductor, 14-year-old Jose Angel Salazar. At 2 years old, Jose was given his first musical instrument. It was a "cuatro," or small four-string guitar. At the age of 8, he saw a concert in his native Margarita, the Caribbean island where he was born, by a local brass brand with a trumpet player from the Berlin Philharmonic. He cried three times, he said, "because of the impression the music made on me." Now at age 14, Jose plays the violin and conducts. Here he is conducting the Orquesta Sinfónica Juvenil e Infantil Regional de Nueva Esparta in a performance of Tchaikovsky's March Slav in B-flat minor, Op. 31. Enjoy!