In 1975 the Venezuelan economist and musician José Antonio Abreu founded „Social Action for Music“ and became its director. Combining political shrewdness with religious devotion, Abreu dedicated himself to a utopian dream in which „an orchestra represents the ideal society, and the sooner a child is nurtured in that environment, the better it is for all.“ In 1979 Abreu received the National Music Prize for his work and in 1995 UNESCO appointed him the special ambassador for the development of a Global Network of Youth and Children Orchestras and Choirs within its framework of “World Movement of Youth and Children Orchestras and Choirs.” Dr Abreu has since received a number of awards, prizes, medals and honorary titles in many different countries that have recognised the value and the outstanding results of his programme.
El Sistema Venezuela is a music education programme largely funded by the state, and it is available to all children and young people who wish to participate. Dr Abreu upheld the project through eight different state administrations, but is constantly seeking other sources of finance. The administration of the late Hugo Chávez has been the most generous patron of El Sistema so far, footing almost its entire annual operating budget as well as additional capital projects. The programme is well known for rescuing young people in extremely impoverished circumstances from environments plagued by drug abuse and crime into which they would otherwise most likely fall. El Sistema provides each child with free music tuition and use of a musical instrument during their participation in the programme. The background, race, or financial statuses of these children are irrelevant. Everyone is welcome. Music is a fight against physical, social and spiritual poverty. From the beginning El Sistema fell under the scope of social-service ministries, not the ministry of culture, and this has strategically helped it to survive.
In Venezuela today there are more than 300 orchestras and choirs for children and youth, supporting about 500.000 children. Since its conception about 2 million children have passed through the system. Thanks to the support of the government El Sistema has started to introduce its music programme into the public-school curriculum, aiming to be introduced in every school and to involve 1,000,000 children. The programme also cares for children with cognitive impairments, visual impairments, hearing problems, motor-neurone problems, autism and learning difficulties. It has recently also been extended to the prison system under the tutelage of the Ministry of Interior and Justice, with the idea to „humanise jails through music.“
According to the world’s leading artists, Venezuela is the only country in the world where something significant is happening in the field of classical music. Today there are several top youth orchestras in existence, most notably the (now former youth) Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela. Many young conductors, composers and soloists from Venezuela are winning prestigious awards at international music competitions and increasing numbers are being engaged in leading positions on the world’s classical music stage. The best known ones are: Gustavo Dudamel, who recently became the music director and chief conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra in California (formerly the chief conductor of Göteborgs Symfoniker in Sweden); Edicson Ruiz, who became a member of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra at the age of 17; and last but not least, a well known singer and promoter of Latin music in Croatia, Jorge Ricardo Luque Perdomo, principal bassoon player of the Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra since 1991 and one of the founders of SO DO.