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Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra

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The Orchestra during a performance in 2013 at the Julio Prestes Cultural Complex, São Paulo, Brazil

The Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela (Spanish: Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar de Venezuela) is a Venezuelan orchestra. Named after the Venezuelan national hero Simón Bolívar, it was initially the apex of the nation's system of youth orchestras.[1] By 2011, it was no longer officially a youth orchestra as many of its members remained with the orchestra and the average age had risen to the early 20s.[2] It was replaced as the national youth orchestra by the Teresa Carreño Youth Orchestra.[3]

The economist José Antonio Abreu established the Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar on 12 February 1978. Gustavo Dudamel has been the orchestra's artistic director since 1999. The orchestra has worked with many famous conductors including Claudio Abbado and Simon Rattle.

Mission and history[edit]

Venezuela's youth orchestras are run under the auspices of the Fundación Musical Simón Bolívar (FMSB), known colloquially as El Sistema, Venezuela's social action music programme. The Guardian wrote that the orchestra represented "a message of social inclusion and the manifest power of music to bring communities together".[4]

The orchestra consists of 180 members, who work under El Sistema’s Orchestral Academic Programme. Orchestra members have performed under Simon Rattle, Claudio Abbado, Daniel Barenboim, Krzysztof Penderecki, Esa-Pekka Salonen and Lorin Maazel.[5]

Based in Caracas, the orchestra moved its home in 2007 from the Teresa Carreño Cultural Complex to a new Center for Social Action Through Music nearby.[6] The name of the center reflects the fact that El Sistema sees itself as a social agency.[7] Most of its music students come from poor socio-economic backgrounds.[8]

During his presidency, Hugo Chávez was a strong supporter of El Sistema, placing it under the executive branch of the government and providing funding of $100 million a year. As a result, the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra became an essential part of national ceremonies. In 2013, El Sistema arranged for Gustavo Dudamel to conduct the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra during the funeral of Chávez, which was attended by nearly two dozen heads of state.[9]

Gustavo Dudamel conducted the orchestra for its 2014 concerts at the Emirates Palace. In an interview prior to the performances, Dudamel said "In Venezuela we encourage what is right for the individual, but even more so what is right for the group".[10]

Several musicians of El Sistema participated in the antigovernment 2017 protests, and in response many were detained, tortured or killed. On 3 May 2017, 18-years-old El Sistema violist Armando Cañizales was killed when he was shot by a spherical metallic projectile by security forces while participating in a demonstration in Caracas.[11] Conductor Gustavo Dudamel condemned Nicolás Maduro's response to the protests for the first time the day after the killing, writing in social media: "I raise my voice against violence and repression. Nothing can justify bloodshed. Enough of ignoring the just clamor of a people suffocated by an intolerable crisis."[12]

Violinist Wuilly Arteaga [es] also participated and played his instrument during the protests that year. On 24 May, a National Guardsman officer ripped and broke his violin. His images crying over the violin went viral, and several people offered to give him a violin to replace the broken one. Wuilly was imprisoned on charges of public instigation and possession of incendiary substance. During his detention he was transferred four times and subjected to torture. When he was arrested, they burned his hair with a lighter for having very long hair, he was beaten with sticks and helmets when he was transferred to Fort Tiuna, and before arriving at the last prison he was hit in the back of the head with a metal tube, causing him internal bleeding and leaving him deaf in his right ear. During his detention he denounced that he witnessed how they raped a young woman detained on top of him inside an armoured vehicle.[13] While he was imprisoned he had nowhere to write, it was forbidden to receive or send letters, there were no visitors, they were isolated and without ventilation. Even so, he composed the song "Cárcel de libertad" (Freedom Prison) along with his best friend Aarón, also detained.[14]

The orchestra played three concerts at the 2023 Edinburgh International Festival.[4]

Critical reception[edit]

In August 2007, the orchestra made its debut at the BBC Proms, to critical acclaim and an enthusiastic reception from the audience.[15] The concert was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and deferred live on BBC Four TV.

A BBC TV documentary programme in the Imagine arts series, first shown on 18 November 2008, examined the history and ethos of the orchestra and its role in tackling the social problems of Venezuela and its success in transforming the lives of some of the nation's poorest children, including interviews with Dudamel, key members of the orchestra, and current and former students. Hosted by Alan Yentob, the film took a detailed look at the unique music education system of Venezuela, of which the orchestra is an integral part, and described a recent attempt to imitate its success in Raploch, a deprived district of the city of Stirling, Scotland.[16]

The cellist Julian Lloyd Webber was appointed chairman of the steering group of In Harmony, a British government-led music education and community development project which is based on El Sistema[17] and which planned a three-year project in three impoverished areas of England. It began in 2009.

In 2007, the orchestra and Dudamel appeared at Carnegie Hall.[18] In 2012, the music critic of the London Times stated his opinion that the high international profile of the Venezuelan orchestra under Dudamel was a factor in the creation of a national youth orchestra in the United States.[19]


The orchestra and Dudamel have made four recordings for Deutsche Grammophon, one of Beethoven; one of Mahler one of Tchaikovsky; and a collection of Latin American music.

The orchestra previously released other recordings, including several ballet pieces, in the early 1990s on the Dorian Recordings label.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Charlotte Higgins (24 November 2006). "Land of hope and glory". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 September 2007.
  2. ^ Dammann, Guy (6 August 2011). "Prom 29: Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra – review". The Guardian.
  3. ^ Vulliamy, Ed (3 October 2010). "Simon Rattle: Abreu deserves the Nobel peace prize". The Observer.
  4. ^ a b MacLeod, Murdo; Tilden, Imogen (25 August 2023). "The Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra at the Edinburgh festival – in pictures". the Guardian. Retrieved 6 September 2023.
  5. ^ "Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela". Askonas Holt. Retrieved 7 September 2023.
  6. ^ Ed Vulliamy (29 July 2007). "Orchestral manoeuvres". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 September 2007.
  7. ^ Hewett, Ivan. "El Sistema and Gustavo Dudamel". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 7 July 2012.
  8. ^ "Strings from the slums". The Strad. Archived from the original on 26 September 2011. Retrieved 10 January 2011.
  9. ^ Swed, Mark (8 March 2013). "Hugo Chavez's funeral and Gustavo Dudamel's passion for Venezuela". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 7 September 2023.
  10. ^ Saeed, Saeed (25 January 2014). "Simón Bolívar Orchestra conductor Gustavo Dudamel is carrying the baton for musical greatness". The National. Retrieved 7 September 2023.
  12. ^ "Gustavo Dudamel condena la represión en Venezuela: 'Ya basta de desatender el justo clamor de un pueblo sofocado' (Published 2017)". The New York Times (in Spanish). 4 May 2017. Retrieved 18 August 2023. A pesar de la gran labor social de El Sistema, su cercanía con el gobierno ha hecho que muchos se pregunten si esa institución, la orquesta nacional y el mismo Dudamel funcionan como una especie de órgano propagandístico de un gobierno que ha sumido a ese país en una de las crisis más grave de su historia.
  13. ^ "Wuilly Arteaga desmintió video publicado por Diosdado Cabello en VTV". El Impulso. 17 August 2017. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  14. ^ "Wuilly Arteaga se fue de Venezuela". El Nacional. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  15. ^ Stephen Pritchard (26 August 2007). "Caracas about them". The Observer. Retrieved 1 September 2007.
  16. ^ "How an Orchestra saved Venezuela's Children". BBC. 18 November 2008. Retrieved 18 November 2008.
  17. ^ In Harmony – Sistema England website Retrieved 25 February 2012
  18. ^ Justin Davidson (18 November 2007),"¡Qué Fantástico!: Gustavo Dudamel makes an enormously charismatic New York debut" on nymag.com/arts. Retrieved 25 June 2012
  19. ^ . Richard Morrison. (March 2012), Why has America taken so long to launch its own National Youth Orchestra?, BBC Music Magazine
  20. ^ "Emusic listings". Retrieved 6 October 2007.

External links[edit]