This is an amazing tribute to one man’s humanity and imagination. In 1975 José Antonio Abreu, now in his mid-seventies, began to found what was to become the National Children’s Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela. Later he established the associated White Hands Choir. This was all with the aim of helping underprivileged children, some living below the poverty line, others handicapped. Abreu managed to get government funding and backing for his vision arguing for the well-being of children at risk.
Over one thousand young Venezuelans, making up El Sistema, came to participate in the 2013 Salzburg Festival. The participating children are all students at one of Sistema’s 286 núcleos
music schools mostly located in Venezuela’s barrios. There children as young as three can come to receive free musical instruments, tuition and, if necessary, food, clothing and medical services. There are over one hundred youth orchestras and almost as many children’s orchestras. Simon Rattle, as keen as ever, after his first visit to Venezuela, ten years ago, commented, “This is the most important thing happening in classical music anywhere in the world.” The other conductor, Jesús Parra, is very young and may even be still in his teens.
An army of thousands of music teachers was also recruited to teach the youngsters whose enthusiasm and exceptional talent shows through every bar of this extraordinary concert. The gusto and drive of their playing is testimony to their fervour enough greatly to impress Maestro Rattle. They sway with the music; they twist and turn and spin their instruments - just watch the double bass players. They almost dance to Gershwin’s Cuban Overture
and Bernstein’s West Side Story Mambo
. As for the Stürmisch bewegt
movement of Mahler's ‘Titan’ Symphony, they blast the ceiling in what is a big and hugely exciting climax.
They also take pride in Ginastera’s four movement ballet suite, Estancia
, inspired by Argentinean ranch life. The music is brash, strongly rhythmic and propulsive. The first movement, ‘Agricultural Workers’ is certainly that. It is based on the ‘Malambo’ which also figures in the final episode - a virile dance for the gauchos. The ‘Wheat Dance’ is quieter, more lyrical with a broad soaring melody at its heart. The third movement, ‘The Cattlemen’, a sort of Scherzo, is bass-dominated with timpani solos.
The White Hands Choir is part of El Sistema. It was founded in 1995 to cater for children and young adults with disabilities. The performers are divided into two groups: one, devoted to physical expression and led by Naybeth García, consists of children and young adults with hearing impairments. They wear white gloves, and perform elegant hand choreography expressive of the emotions generated by the music. The singing section, led by Luis Chinchilla, comprises young adults with visual, cognitive and motor impairments. The majority of songs they sing, with great panache, are South American numbers. They feature close harmony singing from five extraordinarily talented young men.
An amazing concert from very talented young Venezuelans.
Masterwork Index: Mahler symphony 1