The Promise of Music

About this recording

More than just music

Enrique Sánchez Lansch

It all began in 2002, while I was working on Rhythm Is It! and first got to know Edicson Ruiz. At the age of only 17, he had just become the youngest orchestral player in the history of the Berlin Philharmonic. This friendly and modest double-bass player from Venezuela told me things that struck me as altogether incredible. At the age of ten, he had joined a children’s orchestra in a poor quarter of Caracas, more or less by chance and somewhat reluctantly. He was given a viola, but he heard the low frequencies of the double basses and insisted on playing that instrument at the orchestra’s next rehearsal. He developed a great passion for the double bass and from then on practised every day with mounting enthusiasm.

I found out all that I could about the ”system” of more than 200 orchestras that was founded in 1975 by the economist and musician José Antonio Abreu with just a handful of young players. A few months later Edicson introduced me to a friend of his from Caracas who was in Berlin for several weeks. And this young and modest conductor was likewise tremendously helpful, promising to tell me all he knew about the children’s orchestras and the youth orchestras of Venezuela. This was my first encounter with Gustavo Dudamel.

It quickly became clear to me that I would have to make a film about this altogether unique project, and so in 2004 I travelled to Caracas to visit music schools and orchestras of all age groups. I watched Gustavo Dudamel conduct an orchestra of 600 players as well as his first opera. I attended a Beethoven festival in Caracas, a marathon event in the course of which the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra performed all nine symphonies as well as other orchestral pieces by Beethoven within the space of a week. And I found it difficult to get over my amazement at the many rehearsals, workshops and concerts, to say nothing of the enthusiasm and passion of the music-making here.

I returned to Venezuela when Sir Simon Rattle rehearsed and performed Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony in Caracas with 250 young instrumentalists and a chorus of 500. And I watched hundreds of expectant faces literally lapping up the conductor’s words, sharing his astonishment at the flexibility with which the players were able to realize his ideas.

In the course of these two visits I got to know many individual musicians who had grown up with the “system”. Children, teenagers and budding professionals told me about their lives and about the opportunities that had opened up to them as a result. Among them were two musicians who later appeared in my film, the violist Jhoanna Sierralta and the percussionist Félix Mendoza.

But it was to be a while before I could start on my film project, and not until the beginning of 2007 did I find the right partners for The Promise of Music in Deutsche Welle, Unitel and Bernhard Fleischer Moving Images. After that, things moved quickly. During the summer of 2007 we spent several weeks filming in Caracas and travelling around the rest of the country on the trail of Gustavo and our other four protagonists from the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra. We then returned to Germany with the orchestra to complete the project by filming the Beethoven Festival concert in Bonn.

Throughout filming, as well as during the months that I spent in the cutting room, it became increasingly clear to me how important it was to approach this project slowly, over a period of several years, and how essential it was gradually to build up the trust of the individual protagonists. Some projects need time. Venezuela’s orchestral system took 30 years to assume its present forward-looking form.

Translation: Stewart Spencer

Track List

1. Prologue
2. First Beethoven rehearsal
3. Jhoanna - Music schools in Venezuela
4. Félix - Journey to El Tigre
5. Félix and Katherine - Arrival in Caracas
6. Diego - Violin and conducting Gustavo's childhood
7. Jhoanna and Katherine - Dangerous moments
8. Félix - Music or school?
9. Jhoanna and Katherine - Dangerous moments
10. Jhoanna - 250.000 children and teenagers
11. Los Chorros - Orchestra in a children's home
12. Félix - Teaching in El Tigre
13. Gustavo - Picking up conducting
14. Edicson Ruiz
15. Beethoven - Last Rehearsal
16. Gustavo - The new National Children's Orchestra
17. Preparations for the journey
18. Diego - The future
19. Katherine and Jhoanna - The future
20. Félix - Looking for an accordion
21. The Beethoven Hall
22. The Concert
23. Closing Credits
24. Allegro con brio Beethoven, Symphony No.3 in E flat, Op.55 -"Eroica")
25. Marcia funebre (Adagio assai) Beethoven, Symphony No.3 in E flat, Op.55 -"Eroica")
26. Scherzo (Allegro vivace) Beethoven, Symphony No.3 in E flat, Op.55 -"Eroica")
27. Finale (Allegro molto) Beethoven, Symphony No.3 in E flat, Op.55 -"Eroica")
28. Huapango
29. Danza final (Malambo)