Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela

14 April 2009, Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall, London

dudamelspanAbsolutely phenomenal. Am so glad someone told me to buy tickets a year ago! When they played Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No.4 in F minor, I think I stopped breathing for 45 minutes.

Over these past 3 years… as I watch more and more shows (and probably getting cynical with age :P), sadly, I feel that I’m getting more critical and less easy to impress. But wow, I was impressed. Watching the performance made me feel alive. It was such an incredible feeling inside the hall… the vibe, the anticipation. The standing ovation must’ve lasted over 10 minutes. It was so incredible to the extent that I couldn’t put on any music during my walk home, because I wanted the beautiful music to resonate in my head for as long as possible.

The story behind this orchestra of 220 is really quite amazing. Kids who had been lifted off the streets, who come from underprivileged backgrounds, put through El Sistema, Venezuela’s revolutionary programme for young people. A programme that helps them to build self confidence, discipline and most importantly, a love for classical music. About ¼ million of kids take part today. SBYO is just one product of this system… there are about 200 others youth and children orchestras across the country. Pretty amazing.

arts-graphics-2007_1180831aConducted by Gustavo Dudamel (the hottest ticket in the classical world right now)… he’s only 28 and is one of their very own. Watching them is like watching a family. His role is more than just a conductor, he’s like a brother.

This concert showed me what classical music can be… it can be inspiring, it can be beautiful, engaging, healing, moving.. it can come from the heart and soul. I’m not even exaggerating… you can see how this orchestra really feels the music that it plays. Some music critics criticize how some musicians can be too over-the-top, too much like a spectacle… but I don’t think they come off that way. The immense energy and effort they put in is what makes them different….the energy that you feel can really only come from a group of young people!

Anyway, it was great going with people (conductor & saxophonist) who know a lot about classical music, as I really don’t know much about it… I can tell the really bad from the really good.. but amongst the good, I don’t have the ear to differentiate. What then kicks in for me is watching them perform… their emotions and how into the music they are. And I know I tend to like the more exaggerated, high impact strand of classical music.

So! It was great to get some informed opinions. With the first piece Bartok’s Concert for the Orchestra, they said it was good, but that you can tell they aren’t ‘perfect’ (they sounded pretty good to me!) but that the 2nd piece would really be the teller. I thought it was brilliant… an absolute roof-raiser… and so did they! It’s fantastic that this orchestra are celebrated not just because they are young and accomplished, but that they are really truly accomplished in their own right.

I think it is also brilliant that they are changing the face of classical music… telling the world that classical music is not old and stuffy. It’s reflected in the audience make-up too.. quite a crowd of younger children. How nice is it to be taken to something like this… a concert and an orchestra that will come down in history.

The evening ended with a brief blackout, where the orchestra quickly whipped on Venezuelan gear. They then proceeded to play 2 Latino pieces (including Mambo from West Side Story!) It was brilliant. They turned their cellos, bopped their tubas to the rhythm, did a Mexican wave, twisted their horns, got up from their seats and danced whilst playing… it was awesome. I can see how some critics say that there is a danger that the orchestra will be pigeonholed and that it’s a shame they have to wrap up their concert with something that is more like a spectacle (instead of ending ‘properly’), but hey, when are you going to see an orchestra play two phenomenal ‘proper’ pieces and then play and dance to some tunes from their home country? It shows that classical music can be a lot more, and I love that they are proud of their country, proud of their background.

It then became a competition to see which one of them could toss their Venezuelan tops furthest into the crowd. 😛

A truly memorable performance. As Daily Telegraph says, ‘music-making this joyous is a class of its own. If you hear of the orchestra coming within 500 miles of you, book straight away’!


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