In 1975, José Antonio Abreu, conductor, composer and economist, developed the idea of improving social conditions in his country through classical music, by giving children an alternative to life on the streets. In Caracas, he founded the first Venezuelan children's orchestra with twelve children from the barrios, the illegal suburban slums. Since then, he has built a network of orchestras and music centres - El Sistema - throughout the country; each of these teaches in the same unique way. Maestro Abreu has been able to build upon and expand his vision continuously over the course of more than three decades. The children's orchestras turned into youth orchestras and the music centres into academies where highly talented musicians study. During recent years, El Sistema has produced a whole series of internationally successful conductors, the most well-known of which is surely Gustavo Dudamel. At the present time, there are 286 music centres in Venezuela, the so-called nucléos, usually located at the edge of a barrio. Today, the Fundación Musical Simón Bolívar unites almost 400,000 members throughout the entire country in a system of preschool orchestras, children's orchestras, and youth orchestras, all the way to adult symphony orchestras and choruses. 75 % of the children and teenagers participating in the programme live below the poverty line. As part of the 2013 Salzburg Festival, this visionary and exemplary project was presented for the first time in a larger context and in its full diversity outside of Venezuela. To achieve this goal, the Salzburg Festival invited not only the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra - the orchestral training programme's flagship, which has appeared previously in Salzburg - but also five of El Sistema's other ensembles.
-- Watch José Antonio Abreu's TED talk
-- Watch "El Sistema: Changing Lives Through Music"