It’s been another stellar year for el Sistema – some might say a banner year, in fact. 2010 saw the formation and début of yet another extraordinary Venezuelan national orchestra, extraordinary not just for the caliber of music making but the inordinate youth (under the age of 16) of its membership. The Venezuelan “middle child”, the Orquesta Teresa Carreño, made its first international tour in some of the most famous concert halls of Europe to tremendous popular reception. El Sistema’s most famous graduate took his American orchestra on a national tour and continued garnering headlines at an unfathomable rate, and his mentor, Maestro Abreu, was honoured with the Seoul Peace Prize. What more could el Sistema want or need?
Money seems a bit obvious, but not particularly meaningful. I have no doubt that Fesnojiv would gladly accept more funds to expand its work and impact, but with oil prices rising that wish might already have been granted. No, the emotional equivalent of a gift card would be useful, as always, and crude (pun intended), as always, still leaving the question as to what would be a thoughtful and eloquent gesture on the part of the international community.
My suggestion: take el Sistema seriously. Stop treating their international orchestras as mere youth orchestras, and hold them to the highest artistic standards. As anyone who saw the broadcast of the Teresa Carreño from the Philharmonie in Berlin will attest, these young people are eminently capable of tremendous, insightful artistic expression. They’ve long since moved on from the time when their natural exuberance and élan were their best features, they have grown and matured in multiple dimensions since. People are always going to write and talk about how the Venezuelans brought tears to eyes, but there can be more reasons for that reaction now than the imposed extra-musical context and the kinetic performance energy. We need to grant these musicians and the orchestra the serious treatment that they have earned and now fully warrant, rather than the condescension or fluff journalism they usually receive from the media.
It won’t always be happy or comfortable, but it will in itself accord them the respect they deserve. And respect makes for a wonderful gift.
There’s a part 2 to this. I promise it on Wednesday of this week.