Suntory Hall was filled with the sounds of music as Venezuelan maestro Gustavo Dudamel conducted students from Japan and the U.S. during a concert on March 29.
The students are members of the Soma Children’s Orchestra and Chorus; and the Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA), both of which are engaged in El Sistema activities.
Since its founding in 1975 in Venezuela as a social program, El Sistema has offered free music classes and provided instruments to any child, sometimes in unfavorable environments. About 400,000 Venezuelan children are involved in this program to form choirs and orchestras.
The activities “enhance the capacity of children to interact with others, communicate effectively, and most importantly seek harmony,” Venezuelan Ambassador Seiko Ishikwa explained. “They will nourish their spirit through music and eventually gain self-esteem and confidence,” he said.
The method of social inclusion through music has inspired musicians and educators beyond national borders.
The Los Angeles Philharmonic (LAP) established YOLA in 2007 when Dudamel, 34, one of the most notable musicians nurtured through El Sistema, accepted an offer to become its music director.
The Friends of El Sistema Japan (FESJ) was established in 2012 and has collaborated with the city of Soma, Fukushima Prefecture to conduct El Sistema programs for youths affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake. The activities have been supported by the Embassy of Venezuela in Japan and musicians from around the world.
The recent Japan tour of the LAP led by Dudamel paved the way to the dreamlike joint session for 58 orchestra and 52 choir members aged 8 to 17 from Soma and 15 selected YOLA members who traveled to Japan with the LAP.
Beginning with the Japanese a cappella song “Sakura Sakura,” the concert featured an open rehearsal of the fourth movement of Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8 conducted by Dudamel, who taught the students in a dynamic, yet relaxed manner. The audience was thrilled by the young student’s lively performance, which was amazingly well developed under Dudamel’s guidance on stage. The program also included a cheerful Russian dance from Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” as well as Mozart’s heavenly “Ave verum corpus.”
After the concert, Chiemi Yoshida, 8, who is among the youngest violinists in the orchestra, said she enjoys her weekly El Sistema practices, while another violinist Takayuki Hangai, 12, explained how the orchestral collaboration and listening to one another is different from solo performances.
Yutaka Kikugawa, the executive director of the FESJ expressed his gratitude to those involved in the project.
“I believe the concert raised the children’s confidence,” he said.