Friday, May 30, 2008

Venezuelan National System of Youth & Children’s Orchestras honored ... founder says challenged by prize

Venezuela's National System of Youth and Children's Orchestras is "a school of social life," according to founder Jose Antonio Abreu, who says being honored with this year's Asturias Prize for the arts will spur the organization to be worthy of the distinction. In an interview with EFE, Abreu spoke about the recent award ... bestowed on behalf of Prince Felipe of Asturias, the heir to the Spanish throne, each prize is accompanied by 50,000 euros ($77,500) and a reproduction of a statuette designed by Joan Miro. The Asturias honors have come to be regarded on a par with the Nobel prizes.

In his small office at the organization's headquarters in Caracas, Abreu spoke about the concept of the network of orchestras that he founded in 1975 so that other children could have "the same opportunity" he had had and which -- over the years -- has become a model known around the world. "The System (as the network of orchestras is known) has penetrated more and more sectors of society," he said, recalling that handicapped children have joined the network, as well as street kids in communities where poverty is at critical levels. "It serves as a horizon of hope, of happiness, of family integration."

"A school of social life, and also of community development, of community integration" is his definition of the System, which is made up of some 170 orchestras in which some 265,000 youths and children have participated. The access to artistic education contributes, Abreu said, to "the social and moral rescue" of the kids with the least resources and to preventing "art from being confined to the elites."

For the Venezuelan composer and economist, "the democratization of artistic education must constitute one of the urgent goals of the educational system in the world." In commenting on the Asturias Prize the System received last week, Abreu emphasized his "two feelings" on the matter.

The jubilation of the orchestras "in the face of that news that rewards their effort, the sacrifice of the children, the almost heroic denial of our teachers ... is a reward," he said. "But on the other hand, at the same time, for those of us who have responsibilities in leading the System ... it is a very serious responsibility, an additional burden. It's the responsibility every day of confirming and perfecting our effort," he said. "We can't slack off in our effort ... (or think that) a prize, no matter how great, can be the end of our road ... On the contrary, it puts us before a broader and challenging horizon," emphasized Abreu, who will go to the northern Spanish city of Oviedo in October to receive the prize from Crown Prince Felipe. "But not only ... will a delegation of the children, of the teachers go ... Everyone deserves to be there."
  • A month ago, the System State Foundation signed an agreement with Spain's Albeniz Foundation to permit Venezuelan youths to have access to virtual classes with music teachers. Abreu called that agreement "momentous."
Modest despite the resounding success of the System, Abreu said he did not consider himself to be a "visionary," although that is what some say about him.
He defined himself as "a social worker with a profound faith in his art as an instrument to stimulate and promote human development in his country, a modest musician who contributes his portion of effort and work to that idea."

Abreu was born in 1939 in the western Venezuelan state of Trujillo. His mother was the daughter of Italian immigrants and his maternal grandfather was the director of a musical band who came from Italy at the end of the 19th Century. "He, along with other emigrant companions, founded a philharmonic band in Montecarmelo (Trujillo state) ... that was the first seed of this process. They had brought in the boat 46 musical instruments," he said.
Abreu added that "this vocation of my grandfather and this effort of so many years always inspired my vocation."

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