One week later, how have the events of this monumental tour settled? I had the chance to catch up with a few members of the Philharmonic and report what they had to say:
“It took a few days to wrap my head around how things work down there, how the society works. Their classical music culture is so different from anywhere else I’ve been; I think when you have a place where gas is cheaper than water, it’s just so different from everywhere else.
But I think it’s good for us to be there. Personally, I learned a lot. Most of the comments I got from people were ‘They play really hard.’ That’s what they’re supposed to do. They’re kids trying hard and that’s what matters. They have this eagerness… to absorb more from the music they play. I think it’s important to keep this absorption of more, of trying so hard… to keep this for our life.”
-Ben Hong, Cello
“An incredibly worthwhile endeavor; a phenomenal opportunity.”
- Sarah Jackson, Piccolo
“For me, it brought up as many questions as answers. El Sistema runs so smoothly and takes care of so many people; the rest of the country is corrupt on every level. Somehow these kids, some of them in their twenties, live with joy and passion.”
-Mitchell Newman, Violin
“What I think is that Abreu has taken the methods and template of the Industrial Revolution and superimposed them on classical music to create not commerce, but social unity. It’s a Crusade in reverse. The New World is revitalizing the countries that colonized them over 200 years ago. The sense of community and belonging to a larger whole that is endemic to El Systema will translate into (hopefully) a political and social movement that changes the lives of the children who participate and into the future, society as a whole. And what better vehicle than music? The uniting force of mind and heart for mankind.”
-Meredith Snow, Viola
There are a few other resources which describe what we witnessed as guests of El Sistema. Robert Gupta, violinist in the Philharmonic, penned an essay within his role as TED fellow. Eric Booth, longtime proponent of El Sistema, wrote an essay describing his perspective of music in Venezuela in his “Open Secrets.” There’s also an interesting article on the League of American Orchestra’s website.
One hundred eighty-three members of the Los Angeles contingent got lucky to attend this boundary-blasting tour. We were led down a plush red carpet to a blossoming musical world. We heard thousands of young musicians perform varied programs at the highest levels, often performed by heart. We even shared stands with the most famous arm of El Sistema’s musical troops, the Simon Bolivar Orchestra, in an internationally broadcasted concert of Mahler’s 8th Symphony with more than 1,400 musicians.
Philharmonic musicians: tell your stories! Upload your photos to this gallery and share your perspective.
If I were to weigh in on the time we had in Venezuela, I’d use one word: Stupendous!
For more information about nucleos in your area, visit El Sistema USA’s website.