In 1975, the Venezuelan conductor, composer—and economist—Jose Antonio Abreu had a vision of demolishing the traditional elitism of western classical music and using it for sociological purposes.
The result was a El Sistema (The System) which takes thousands of deprived, disaffected youngsters from the dangerously impoverished barrios; offers them a ladder from poverty, criminality, and drug dependency; gives them the chance to learn, love and play classical music; and inculcates self-confidence, skills and discipline.
It also puts them in concert halls. There are now 57 children’s orchestras and another 125 youth orchestras in Venezuela, in an experiment that country after country is now adopting.
The Simon Bolvar Youth Orchestra is now the world’s hottest ticket, and its conductor Gustavo Dudamel, who, in the words of The Times, London, “has transformed the young and the poor into inspirations for the world”, is considered to be one of the most astonishingly gifted. He has just been appointed as the new director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.
Could Carnatic music step out of its stultifying katcheris and perform a similar role for the cheri pasangal?