Rhinegold

Claire Jackson

El Sistema founder José Abreu dies

10:39, 27th March 2018

José Abreu, founder of international music programme El Sistema, has died. He was 78.

Abreu’s famed reputation in music education circles is reflected by three days of national mourning in his home country of Venezuela.

‘Maestro Abreu’ (pictured) founded El Sistema – literally, ‘the system’ – to shore up music provision in Venezuela’s poorest regions. The project began in 1975, with an overarching aim to teach children how to play musical instruments free of charge. Abreu wanted to create a framework to ensure that Venezuelan orchestras could compete on the world stage. Abreu’s concept of setting up teaching centres in deprived areas has been replicated across the globe.

Abreu was greatly respected within the music world; Simon Rattle was a public supporter, and Abreu’s pupil Gustav Dudamel helped foster El Sistema in the US through his role as director of the LA Philharmonic. Dudamel went on to become the public face of the music education system and frequently conducts concerts with charitable aims.

Dudamel has replaced his website with a black-and-white-page dedicated to Abreu that reads: ‘With devoted love and eternal gratitude to my mento and father of El Sistema’.

‘To play and to struggle’

The El Sistema initiative was not immune to the political turbulence of its homecountry: in 2017 the Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar de Venezuela had had its forthcoming US tour cancelled by the office of the president of Venezuela, prompting widespread outrage. The slogan of El Sistema is ‘to play and to struggle’ – Abreu has created a powerful legacy that will continue to transcend politics in favour of arts education and, ultimately, humanity.

Watch Abreu’s TED talk here

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