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El Sistema
; Music to Change Life

A film by Paul Smaczny and Maria Stodtmeier

with excerpts of music by Ravel, Munoz, Gutierrez, Prado, Marguez, Tchaikovsky, Márquez, Ravel, Beethoven, Mendoza, Piazolla, Ginastera, Hernández, Bernstein & Yánez and a bonus extra - auditions for the Venezuelan National Children's Orchestra

Medici Arts: DVD 2056954

This hugely important film celebates the musico-political achievements of the great humanitarian José Antonio Abreu, whose unswerving optimism and dedication to his vision of a different life for a children brought up in the crime-ridden ghettoes of Venezuela's main cities has brought the satisfaction of achievement to a quarter of a million young people - and suggestions that he should be considered for a Nobel Peace prize.

Gustavo Dudamel and his Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra, who enjoyed a five day London residency earlier this year, are but the apex of a vast national organisation, the tip of an iceberg which global warming won't melt.

Abreu and his wholly dedicated team no longer have to fight for funds; the problem now is to keep up with the ever expanding projects which are being generously supported, one of the most recent to bring orchestral music (instruments and a building in which to play them !) to one of the most deprived city areas of all, the "homes" around land fills, where youngsters scavenge rubbish dumps for items they might be able to try to sell.

Abreu's thirty year project aims within the next years to extend its coverage to a whole million of youngsters who will become proficient orchestral musicians, at different levels, within a few more years!

The emphasis has throughout been upon social involvement and the belonging to creative groups, something quite opposite to, say, the pressure for supremacy that has generated the presence of gifted far eastern musicians in all the world's instrumental competitions. Not that striving for excellence is not integral to El Sistema, as the young players explain their continual auditioning to get into the next level, with the Simón Bolívar orchestra at the pinnacle. El Sistema having bred one great international conductor, other individuals are sure to gradually emerge as maestros and top soloists of the future.

Wise words from José Antonio Abreu himself thread through this great film, superbly constructed and edited and surely one of the year's most important in its pointer to a better future for disadvantaged communities worldwide.

Hear Abreu himself too in a moving video on kids transformed by music which, rather than more words from me, will at the very least persuade you to buy this DVD, which ought to be compulsory viewing for every educationalist and children's specialist in the land, and should be drawn to the attention of politicians, including our Members of Parliament, candidates for its 2010 successor, Councillors and Civil Servants, national and local. There is urgency to learn El Sistema's lessons not less than those from the scientists who have shown that it can still be possible - just - to save the physical planet...

During this year a small token of possibilities for music in UK life, and life in music, has been offered through the pioneering work of Gareth Malone, bringing singing to revitalise South Oxley's school and community, but it is Abreu who points the musical way to enhance life for the most disadvantaged and deprived people of our country and every other.

See the Venezualean kids beginning their studies on orchestral instruments made of paper, before real ones could be afforded; that will moisten your eyes. So will the deaf participants and the girl who struggled to get to her session on crutches after being shot on the way there!

The film shows you graphically where and how how several of Dudamel's crack virtuosi in the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra had their beginnings, risking being caught in gang warfare and shootings to get to their classes... Dudamel, now one of the most prestigious conductors in the world, has often been quoted [e.g. The Observer, July 2007] as saying how he grew up in poverty with these musicians - "They're family; I grew up with them, I've played with 80 per cent of them - - my best friends, my brothers and sisters"...

Only after seeing this film will you fully appreciate what that means. In Venezuela, thanks to Dr. Abreu, music is the one thing which is truly inclusive regardless of class and wealth.

This is Musical Pointers' DVD film of the year, and we'll be making all our guests watch it!

Peter Grahame Woolf