My recent guest column for The Ensemble, a monthly newsletter reporting on the U.S. and Canada Sistema-inspired movement.
April 1, 2016
"Across the Americas"
What began as a simple spaghetti dinner with Maestro Abreu in New York quickly turned into a continental mission – as things tend to do, with the Maestro. “We are going to generate a continental project with the Simon Bolivar Orchestra of Venezuela,” he told me. I had just heard him give a lecture about unifying the Americas through music, and we talked about the mentoring relationship between two Mexican musical giants, composer Carlos Chavez and conductor Eduardo Mata, and the Simon Bolivar in its early days. It’s imperative, Abreu told me, that the spirit of this once-thriving alliance be rekindled.
In short order, I was in Caracas with two of Mexico’s top young musicians, bringing a new piano concerto to the Bolivars. The piano soloist was Abdiel Vazquez; the piece we premiered was Piramide del Sol, by Juan Pablo Contreras.
Working with the orchestra, I experienced firsthand the total commitment to music and the generosity of spirit that contribute to their distinctive greatness. I got used to hearing the brass section continue to fine-tune intricate passages long after our rehearsal ended. (The power of the string sound was a treasure to behold!) It was common for me to receive words of encouragement from orchestra members. Right before the performance, many wished me well.
What can we learn from the Bolivars, we who work with young U.S./Canadian Sistema programs? First, we need to do everything we can to nurture the feeling of interdependence in our orchestras—you are responsible for others and they are responsible for you. We need to think in terms of inspiring motivation in our ensembles so that they can take ownership of their own learning and outcomes.
The second lesson is about the “continental project.” We need to keep generating links with programs beyond our own geographical domains. The Bolivars’ path to becoming one of the world’s leading orchestras involved a diligent exchange and confluence of artistic cultures from the Americas to Europe and back. By actively listening to the sound of others, the orchestra was able to find its voice. If we listen closely across continents, we too will begin to find our voices.