Music as sporting event

We understand the passion and magic of sporting events. But do we really understand that in the context of musical performances?

Last night I experienced what can only be described as pure magic, when the Youth Orchestra of Venezuela performed at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco.

I have always believed that there is a unique passion present in non-professional music groups – something is different when you are doing something you love, something you’ve grown up with, something that has nothing to do with “having a job”.

Here are some testimonials from the members of the orchestra, and a brief history of “el sistema”, the extraordinary 30-year project of Jose Antonio Abreu, the founder of the group.

What strikes me about the players is their discipline, precision, and technical abilities….AND their incredible passion for the music! They opened with a performance Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10. The 200-plus teenagers and young adults in the orchestra managed to communicate despair, the quiet intensity of grief, and anguish in a convincing way. And it was clear that their conductor had taught them to feel what the music could tell an audience. Maestro Dudamel was simply beautiful to watch. He had the special bond of someone who himself had grown up playing in that orchestra. He loved and respected his players, and believed in what they could produce. And they did.

The sound was bigger, more passionate, more intense with emotion, than any professional orchestra I have heard.

The program ended with a medley of Bernstein symphonic dances from West Side Story, and several pieces from Latin America which showcased the groups incredible sense of rhythm and tempo, as well as their LOVE of all types of music. The sporting event element emerged in the FOURTH ENCORE, when the house lights went black and the entire orchestra (including conductor) donned jackets, with the red, yellow, and blue of their flag and the word “VENEZUELA” across the back. They then repeated renditions of some of their earlier Latin American dance pieces, with embellishments like spinning trumpets, “the wave” going across the orchestra, twirling cellos, etc. I felt the energy one must feel at a World Cup soccer game, where everyone is just exhilarated and wants to be there forever. The entire sold-out audience at Davies rose to their feet after every single piece they performed, and not one person left the hall before the last member of the orchestra had exited the stage. That was a first (and on a Sunday night!).

I walked out of the hall feeling that we needed to bring this kind of experience to our country. These kids were giving the world such a gift by showing each audience – no matter where they perform – what teamwork, motivation, peer support, and the discipline of music can produce. With great love, much can be accomplished…and enjoyed.

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