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A Classical Society?

img  Tobias

It was a bold and beautiful vision. Thirty years ago, famous conductor Jose-Antonio Abreu started a program that was to elevate young children from the one-way street of poverty and crime to the higher plains of Classical Music and the fine arts. At the same time, he wanted to rescue his country, Venezuela, from the dire straits it was in: Only two orchestras and a few radio stations served a select and elite audience. The idea was a simple one: Let children play in ensembles, teach them about the great composers and about the beauty of Classical Music, instead of allowing them to waste their lives in gangs on the streets.

Abreu must have had an extremely fine sense of what his nation needed. In only a few days, the number of participating musicians rose from 11 to 75 and thanks to the glory of the golden oil-days, state funding could be provided for a system that has educated about 400.000 pupils and today employs 15.000 music teachers. Just like Japan, where concert-visitors bring along their pocket-scores and astound knowledge of the historical and formal background of a piece, it's a sort of a wonderland for disappointed aficionados from good old Europe and the United States: Sir Simon Rattle called it "the most important thing happening anywhere in Classical Music"´; Claudio Abbado, Zubin Mehta, Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti have had nothing but praise for FESNOJIV (the abbreviation for the incredibly long name of the program). In his excellent and highly informative column, Drew McManus claims that "the future of Classical Music is in Venezuela".

There is nothing wrong with praising Abreus work and the positive effects it has had on Venezuela. Still: Even though the smart and warm-hearted Mcmanus, who has actually visited the country and followed musicians around for days, paints a rosy picture of the situation, some teachers report stories of violence and of being threatened with a gun. Also, FESNOJIV has provided the mostly quasi-dictatorial regime with a nice facade for the world. A man like Hugo Chavez is only to keen to keep a system rolling that enables him to present his country as a role model for culture and peace, while at the same time imposing a strict regime based on military force and special powers. It is no coincidence that comparable programs have mainly sprung up in the countries of the former Warsaw pact, such as the GDR, where state schools also produced masses of musicians. It is also wrong to compare the situation of a developing country with that in the Western World. While Venezuela is clamouring to get its children some food, EU-states are rather worried about the cultural drought facing this generation (admittedly, the USA is a different story). Abreu well knows that his program can only survive as long as the oil keeps flowing - similar schemes could never be financed in Europe. And maybe they shouldn't be: Instead of sponsoring schools that will train too many people for a job they will likely never be able to perform, the emphasis should lie on more hours of musical education at school, on better learning materials and on providing more practice facilities. FESNOJIV may be a great step for the future of Venezuela, it is surely not the future of Classical Music around the globe.

And now, decide for yourself.

Source: FESNOJIV at the Financial Times
Source: FESNOJIV at
Source: FESNOJIV at the Partial Observer

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