José Antonio Abreu

José Antonio Abreu, the promoter, builder and founder of the National System of Young Peoples’, Children’s and Pre-school Orchestras of Venezuela, can be defined by only one word: VISIONARY. This musician of great faith, strong convictions and human warmth, has undertaken and achieved a task which goes beyond musical horizons to become a way of rescuing young Venezuelans from poverty and giving them an education. He was born in Valera, in the State of Trujillo, on May 7th, 1939, and showed musical and artistic sensibilities from an early age. He began studying music in the city of Barquisimeto, in the State of Lara, and then moved to Caracas in 1957, where he became a pupil of important Venezuelan teachers such as Vicente Emilio Sojo, under whom he studied composition; Moisés Moleiro, his piano teacher; and Evencio Castellanos, who gave him organ and harpsichord classes. José Antonio Abreu obtained his degrees as Teacher-Player and Maestro of Composition from the “José Ángel Lamas” School of Higher Music Studies in 1964. Later, he studied orchestra conducting under the Maestro Gonzalo Castellanos Yumar and began to be invited as guest conductor by the main orchestras in Venezuela. When he founded the Símon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra in 1975, Maestro Abreu became its permanent conductor. He has conducted the most important works in the repertoire. In order to become a sower of musical vocations and face the challenge of the System of Orchestras, José Antonio Abreu first had a brilliant career as planner and economist. The Venezuelan State entrusted him with difficult tasks when it appointed him Planning Director of Cordiplan and Consultant to the National Economics Council. From 1975 Maestro Abreu has devoted his life to Venezuela’s musical young people, a calling which appears to fascinate him more and more. He was awarded the National Music Prize on two occasions: in 1967 and in 1979. He was decorated by the Colombian government and appointed President of the 4th Inter-American Conference on Musical Education, sponsored by the Organization of American States, in 1983. In 1988 he was simultaneously appointed Minister of Culture and President of the National Council for Culture, posts which he held until 1993 and 1994 respectively. His outstanding career had given him the right to be nominated by nationally and internationally renowned figures for the “Gabriela Mistral” Inter-American Prize for Culture, which he was awarded in 1995. Dr. Abreu’s tireless labor has been extended all over Latin America and the Caribbean, where the Venezuelan model has been adapted to different realities and yields palpable fruits, offering benefits far beyond national frontiers. On December 7th, 2001, he received the Alternative Noble Prize, “The Right Livelihood”, in a formal ceremony held in the Swedish Parliament. On April 27th, 2002, he was awarded the “Music and Life” Prize by the Italian organization Coordinamento Musica, in the city of Rimini, Italy, for his active role in the dissemination of music as a complement to young peoples’ education, with emphasis on the awareness of its social value. Also in 2002, he received a Special Award for Social Enterprise for his work in aid of the children and young people of Latin America, given by the Schwab Foundation in Geneva. In July, 2002, the New England Music Conservatory in Boston, Massachusetts, awarded him an Honorary Doctorate in Music. That same year, in Venezuela, the University of the Andes in Merida awarded him a University Distinction and the Academy of Music made him an Honorary Member. The Francisco de Miranda Experimental University awarded him an Honorary Doctorate, in Official Resolution No.1197 of the University Council, signed and sealed in Santa Ana of Coro on July 25th, 2003. In a formal ceremony held in the Símon Bolivar University, the World Society for the Future Venezuela, awarded him the Futurist Order of Merit, 2003 for his invaluable and outstanding labor in educating young people through his project of Young Peoples’ and Children’s Orchestras, which has had made an evident and important impact on society. On March 18th, 2004, the Andrés Bello Catholic University awarded him an Honorary Doctorate in Education, in a formal ceremony presided over by Luis Ugalde, s.j., Rector of that prestigious house of studies. The World Culture Open Association “WCO” awarded him the Peace Prize for the Arts and Culture in the Creative Arts, “for his work with the National Young Peoples’ Symphony Orchestras of Venezuela, which has given hundreds of thousands of poor Venezuelan children access to music and an education which improves their lives. His efforts have generated similar initiatives in other countries in Latin America.” In his letter recommending Dr. Abreu’s nomination, Mark Churchill, Dean of the New England Conservatory in Boston, called the Venezuelan Orchestra System “a beacon of hope in a troubled world”. The ceremony was held in the Avery Fisher Hall at the Lincoln Center in the city of New York on September 9th, 2004. On May 26th, 2005, the Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany, Hermann Erath, awarded him the Cross of Merit, 1st class, in thanks for and in recognition of his extraordinary labor in aid of cultural relations between Venezuela and Germany. In November 2005, he received an Honorary Doctorate from the Open University of Caracas, in the Celebration of its 25th anniversary, and in December of the same year he was awarded the Símon Bolivar Prize by the Teachers’ Association of the Símon Bolivar University. In 2006, he was awarded the Praemium Imperiale in New York and in December of that year the GlobArtAward Prize, in Vienna, for Exemplary Service to Humanity. In September 2006, in Rome, Italy, the Italian UNICEF Committee awarded him the UNICEF Prize for having devoted his life to the protection of children and adolescents and to the rescue of young people with severe problems, through music. In June 2007, he received the Presidential Order of the Government of the Italian Republic “Stella della Solidarietá Italiana” (Grande Uffíciale). That same year he was awarded the “Don Juan de Borbón Prize” for Music, 2007, by HRH the Prince of Asturias, in a formal ceremony held in the Kings’ Hall of the Alcázar in Segovia. On October 28th that year, he received the Italian Senate Medal awarded by the Scientific Committee of the Pio Manzú Center in the city of Rimini, Italy. He was principal speaker in the 33rd. Edition of the International Conference of the Pio Manzú Center, presided over by Mr. Mikhail Gorbachev, which was held in the city of Rimini, Italy, between October 27th and 29th, 2007. In November 2007, he received the Certificate of Recognition awarded by the California Legislative Assembly, in the United States of America. That same month, he was given the Certificate of Honor by the Mayor’s Office of the City and County of San Francisco, United States of America. That month, he was also awarded an Official Recognition congratulating him on his enormous achievements, given by the Municipal Council of the city of Boston, United States of America. In January 2008, he was appointed Ambassador of the Candidature of Segovia to the European Culture Capital of 2016, by Don Pedro Arahuetes, Mayor of Segovia, Spain. In February, 2008, the Fondazione Festival Pucciniano, represented by Maestro Fabricio Papi and Franco and Alexandra Moretti, awarded him the Puccini International Award, which he received in Caracas, Venezuela, from the eminent Professor, Mirella Freni. In February 2008, he was decorated with the Great Sash of the Rising Sun by His Majesty, The Emperor of Japan, in recognition of his admirable and fruitful labors in the musical education of children and young people, and for forging links of friendship and cultural and artistic exchange between Japan and Venezuela. The National Council and Committee for Human Rights of the B’nai B’rith Hebrew Fraternity of Venezuela awarded him the B’nai B’rith Human Rights Prize on February 26th, 2008. In May 2008, he was awarded the Honorary Membership of the Royal Philharmonic Society, in recognition of his work as Founder of the National System of Children’s and Youth Orchestras of Venezuela (El Sistema) and in October 2008 he was awarded the prestigious Premio Príncipe de Asturias de las Artes 2008. Maestro Abreu is the recipient of the esteemed Glenn Gould Prize in Music and Communication, only the 8th laureate in the history of this award. He received this honour whilst in Toronto with the Símon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela on October 2009.