José Antonio Abreu
|José Antonio Abreu|
José Antonio Abreu at TED in 2009
May 7, 1939 |
|Occupation||pianist, economist, educator, activist, and politician|
José Antonio Abreu (born May 7, 1939 in Valera) is a Venezuelan pianist, economist, educator, activist, and politician. He was honored with the 2009 Latin Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences' Trustees Awards, the highest honor given to the career of personalities that have contributed to music by the organization that puts together The Latin GRAMMY Awards.
Politics and academics 
Born in the city of Valera in 1939, Abreu graduated ¨Summa Cum Laude¨ as an Economist at Universidad Católica Andres Bello and he was awarded a PhD degree in Petroleum Economics from the same university in 1961. Abreu also did some graduate work at the University of Michigan. He served as a Deputy at the Chamber of Deputies in the Congress of Venezuela. After his political career, he also worked as a professor of economics and law at Universidad Simón Bolívar and his Alma Mater. He would return to politics briefly in 1983 to serve as Minister of Culture.
Abreu began to study music with Doralisa Jiménez de Medina in Barquisimeto. Later, he attended the Caracas Musical Declamation Academy in 1957, where he studied piano with Moisés Moleiro, organ and harpsichord with Evencio Castellanos, and composition with Vicente Emilio Sojo. In 1967, he received the Symphonic Music National Prize for his musical ability. It was in 1975 that he founded El Sistema, formally known as the Foundation for the National Network of Youth and Children Orchestras of Venezuela.
This was an innovative youth education method in which music was the primary avenue for social and intellectual improvement. He received the National Music Prize for this work at El Sistema in 1979. Under Abreu's guidance, El Sistema has participated in exchange and cooperation programmes with Spain, Latin American countries and the United States.
Awards and recognition 
In 1993, El Sistema was awarded the famous IMC-UNESCO International Music Prize in the institution class. UNESCO also appointed Abreu as a Special Ambassador for the Development of a Global Network of Youth and Children Orchestras and Choirs in 1995 and as a special representative for the development of network of orchestras within the framework of UNESCO's "World Movement of Youth and Children Orchestras and Choirs". This project was created in the context of an inter-disciplinary project "Towards a Culture of Peace". He co-ordinates the programme through the UNESCO office in Caracas. He was also designated a Goodwill Ambassador by UNESCO in 1998.
In 2001, Abreu was honoured with a Right Livelihood Award and was honored with the World Culture Open Creative Arts Award in 2004. Among his numerous awards are the Order of the Rising Sun, Grand Cordon (Japan, 2007), the Glenn Gould Prize (Canada, 2008), the Puccini International Prize (Italy, 2008), the Q Prize with former student and protégé Gustavo Dudamel (USA, 2008) and honorary memberships at the Royal Philharmonic Society (2008, United Kingdom) and the Beethoven-Haus Society (Germany, 2008). Abreu is also co-founder and vice-chairman of YOA Orchestra of the Americas.
When the B'nai B'rith Venezuelan brand gave Abreu their B'nai B'rith Human Rights Award in 2008, Abreu succinctly summarized the goal of El Sistema and of his life's work by saying, "In the struggle for Human Rights, let us vigorously incorporate children's sublime right to music, in whose bosom shines Beingness in its splendor and its ineffable mystery. Let us reveal to our children the beauty of music and music shall reveal to our children the beauty of life.".
In 2008 received as director of El Sistema the Prince of Asturias Awards for arts. In 2009, Abreu received the Crystal Award of the World Economic Forum and the TED Prize, which consists of 100,000 dollars and one wish to change the world. The description for his awards is a clear description of the work he does at El Sistema as it reads, "the maestro who's transformed the lives of tens of thousands of kids... through classical music".
On May 12, 2009, Abreu was awarded the Polar Music Prize, given by the Royal Swedish Academy of Music. Abreu and Peter Gabriel, who also won, were presented with their awards by King Carl XVI Gustaf at a gala ceremony at the Stockholm Concert Hall on 31 August. The Royal Swedish Academy of Music said about Abreu:
The Polar Music Prize 2009 is awarded the Venezuelan conductor, composer and economist José Antonio Abreu. Driven by a vision that the world of classical music can help improve the lives of Venezuela’s children, he created the music network El Sistema, which has given hundreds of thousands the tools to leave poverty. José Antonio Abreu’s successful creation has promoted traditional values, like respect, fellowship and humanity. His achievement shows us what is possible when music is made the common ground and thereby part of people’s everyday lives. Simultaneously, a new hope for the future has been given children and parents, as well as politicians. The vision of José Antonio Abreu serves as a model to us all.
In 2010, Abreu was awarded Erasmus Prize. In 2012, Abreu was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Institute of Education, University of London in recognition of his services to music education and social change.
- Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA): 2007 Autumn Conferment of Decorations on Foreign Nationals, p. 2.
- Polar Music Award winners 2009: José Antonio Abreu and Peter Gabriel, BBC News, May 12, 2009
- 2009 Polar Music Prize press release, Royal Swedish Academy of Music, May 12, 2009
- Biography on Right Livelihood Award
- The Work of José Antonio Abreu (Spanish)
- Personalities to the service of the Unesco (Spanish)
- Interview with José Antonio Abreu
- "La cultura para los pobres no puede ser una pobre cultura". Interview with José Antonio Abreu
- TED Talks: Jose Abreu on kids transformed by music at TED in 2009