Thursday, February 14, 2008

Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra founder wins prize

By Russell Maddicks

Venezuelan pianist, organist, composer and musical conductor Jose Antonio Abreu has won Canada's prestigious Glenn Gould Prize.

The prize, which honours the memory of Canadian pianist Glenn Gould, is awarded every three years to someone who has made an exceptional contribution to the arts and entertainment.

The winner receives a cheque for $50,000 and gets to select a young musician to receive a $10,000 "protege prize". The announcement was made on 14 February.

Abreu pioneered the musical teaching system in Venezuela known as "El Sistema", which offers free music lessons and instruments to poor children.

The scheme began in 1975, with the belief that music could act as a force for social cohesion in a country with such a wide gap between rich and poor.

Abreu gradually extended it to create Venezuela's Youth And Children's Orchestra Network and there are now more than 200 youth orchestras in Venezuela, including the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, which he founded.

Gustavo Dudamel, one of the most talented young conductors in the world today and himself a product of the sistema, discussed Maestro Abreu's continuing importance in an interview with the BBC after the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra's show stopping performance at the Proms in 2007.

Dudamel is currently working with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, one of America's top orchestras.

Video: Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra performing at the Albert Hall in 2007

CD review: "Fiesta" Gustavo Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela

To download tracks from the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra's latest album "Fiesta" click here:

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