Following the death of the Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez there followed much concern over what it would mean for El Sistema, the country’s vast network of regional music schools and youth orchestras that serve between 300,000 and 350,000 children annually. Chávez not only embraced El Sistema but also became its most generous patron, his administration footing almost its entire annual operating budget.
Answers emerged last week when Gustavo Dudamel, the most famous product of El Sistema, spent several days making the rounds in Caracas and giving a press conference with Venezuela’s new president Nicolas Maduro. Among the outcomes: government officials say El Sistema will add 100,000 young people to its rolls before the end of this year, the result of new state financing.
Dudamel, along with El Sistema founder José Antonio Abreu, met with Maduro at the presidential palace. The president said that with the expansion of the program, plans are underway to train more teachers and bolster the infrastructure for El Sistema. That includes the construction of a “Dudamel Hall” in Barquisimeto, the city where Dudamel was born. Frank Gehry has been identified as the architect, though other details including a specific completion date have not been disclosed.
Dudamel, music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela (SBSOV), is also an active guest conductor. On Sunday, he conducted the SBSOV before leaving for Germany to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic.