Like “El Sistema: Music to Change Life,” “The Promise of Music” is another
DVD documentary about Venezuela’s El Sistema, the brainchild of
pianist and politician, Jose Antonio Abreu. Enrique Sanchez Lansch is the
writer and director of this film. Shot in Venezuela and Germany in 2007,
it also documents the “system” of over 200 youth orchestras founded by
Abreu in 1975.
Since that time, the system has borne incredible fruit, with the Simon Bolivar
Youth Orchestra at the top of this socio/musical pyramid. Abreu reasoned
that in addition learning to play an instrument, music instruction could
be used as a tool to teach disciplinary and social skills to young people.
The method obviously works, as shown in this travelogue of Venezuela
and its many music schools. Despite living conditions rife with crime and
crippling poverty, Venezuela is obviously a hotbed of musical talent,
primarily due to the encouragement and nurturing of children from an early
age. This nurturing aspect is demonstrated by footage of individual lessons
and orchestral rehearsals.
A few musicians from the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra are prominently
featured in interviews shot with the orchestra and in their respective
homes. Their dedication and passion is both refreshing and inspiring. As a
retired double bass player, the segment on Edicson Ruiz was particularly
interesting to me. At age 17, Mr. Ruiz became the youngest player to ever
become a member of the Berlin Philharmonic. I’m still shaking my head in
The DVD concludes with a concert given at the Beethoven Festival in Bonn,
under the inspired guidance of Gustavo Dudamel. In addition to
his duties as the Music Director and Conductor of the Los Angeles
Philharmonic and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, Maestro Dudamel
is also Music Director of the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra.
The main piece on the program was “Symphony No. 3” by Beethoven. To
these seasoned ears, the playing sounded professional in every way, and
despite the presence of a giant string section and doubling of all of the winds,
there were no ensemble difficulties. As he often does, Maestro Dudamel
conducted from memory.
The other two pieces featured were “Huapango” by Mexican composer
Jose Pablo Moncayo and the ‘Danza Final (Malambo)’ from “Estancia,” by
Alberto Ginastera. The members of the orchestra made a fine statement
with these pieces, and the festive mood seemed to be enjoyed by all.
“The Promise of Music,” the aforementioned “El Sistema: Music to Change
Life,” and “Gustavo Dudamel: Live from Salzburg” are all on the Deutsche
Grammophon label. In my opinion, all three of these DVDs are all uplifting
and essential viewing. As Maestro Dudamel said when interviewed,
“…if all of these children can make music like this in Venezuela, why not
elsewhere in the world?” Amen to that!