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Gustav, Meet Gustavo: Hearing Mahler in the Cineplex

Vivian Rothstein

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Gustavo Dudamel, the LA Phil and 1,200 friends in Caracas

It wasn’t exactly Tahrir Square, but one recent Saturday afternoon, through modern technology, I joined an estimated two million people throughout Latin America, the U.S. and Canada in 500 different venues to experience a different kind of democracy movement – call it musical democracy.

We were all gathered to watch Gustavo Dudamel of the LA Philharmonic Orchestra conduct 1,400 performers in Gustav Mahler’s Eighth Symphony in Caracas, Venezuela.

The 1,200 young members of the chorus, and the Venezuelan musicians who played alongside the pros of the LA Phil, are products of “El Sistema,” the innovative choral and orchestral training system aimed at the country’s poorest children . The program currently involves 250,000 kids and 135 youth orchestras throughout the nation of 30 million. Dudamel is a product of that system, as are the numerous talented Venezuelan musicians now getting scooped up by topnotch classical music venues throughout the world.

Founded as an anti-drug, anti-violence program 37 years ago, El Sistema is seen as teaching discipline, accountability, collectivity and mutual-responsibility. And after seeing the kids, some as young as 7 or 8, stand for 80 minutes without fighting or fidgeting, it was clear to me that the program is a huge success.

Watching the performance at the AMC multiplex at the South Coast Mall in Torrance, the experience was a high culture/low culture marriage. We left the theater after Faust finally received forgiveness (in German) for his sins by the Virgin Mary, to Dolby Sound car crashes and shoot-ups taking place in the adjacent auditoriums.

But what a celebration the performance was! From the inspiring music itself, to the global connection between peoples, to the inspiration of El Sistema and its belief in the potential of the poorest children in Venezuela, to the new accessibility of music and art through modern technology, I left the theater with a full heart and great hope for our collective future.

We have a lot to learn from each other. And technology has the potential to knit us together in new and powerful ways.

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