Rattling cages

July 2, 2010

July 2, 2010 I’m back in Caracas. Even as I type that I have a hard time believing it, since I never expected to return so soon. But here I am, after a 10+ hour flight from Frankfurt across the Atlantic, looking out a window onto the Sabana Grande.

Part of the problem is that I feel like I’m looking at a different city. I’ve escaped the hermetically sealed, sanitized habitat in which the Abreu Fellows lived and worked (it was for our own safety) and made my way into the concrete urban jungle. It’s a completely different experience to walk it, rather than see it through the window of an air-conditioned van, and it produces a completely different sense of the city, a much more human sense of it. As someone who has lived in places like Calcutta and Shanghai, this cultural milieu is what I love and look for when traveling.

Then there’s the Caracas I remember, a city full of amazing performances by young musicians… except the performances get better and the musicians get younger. Last night I watched Sir Simon Rattle rehearse the new Orquesta Sinfonica Nacional Infantiles de Venezuela, an ensemble comprised of musicians under the age of 16. They were working through Mahler Symphony No. 1, and not just acquitting themselves honourably, but spectacularly, under the leadership of an extraordinary, intelligent, and thoughtful musician. They weren’t just “getting through it” in a series of episodes and climaxes, but evoking a genuine Mahlerian ethos.

You have to admire the audacity of this vision – an artistic and logistical (kudos to the admin!) feat that would have been dismissed as impossible anywhere else in the world, but one that will have lasting impact on La Red. This group, so young, will walk away having shared a profound artistic experience, they will return to their home towns with a new understanding of what it means to combine raw passion with musical integrity, and they in turn will start shaping their orchestras from within, unconsciously or consciously. It doesn’t matter which, the end result is the same.

And the concertmaster of this 150+ elite orchestra is none other than Samuel Vargas, the 14 year-old concertmaster of the orchestra in Acarigua.  I can see why they picked him.

Today – in 15 minutes time, rather – I’m headed to Acarigua to begin rehearsals with the Orquesta Sinfonica Juveniles de Los Llanos. Samuel returns on the 7th to resume his normal chair in front of the first violin section, and this makes me smile when I consider where I will have last seen him.

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