The Sistema - the popular name for the Fundación del Estado para el Sistema Nacional de las Orquestas Juveniles e Infantiles de Venezuela - was set up in 1975 by Abreu partly as a response to the dearth of Venezuelan classical musicians.
It was also from the beginning a social project using music as its means - stemming from Abreu's belief that every child, however poor, should have the opportunity to punch out of the poverty cycle.
About 250,000 children are now involved in the Sistema. They study from 2pm to 6pm every day, with work focused on the idea of the orchestra rather than the individual. As soon as they are able, older children are encouraged to help mentor younger students or to conduct ensembles.
Abreu told the Manchester Guardian in 2006: "The philosophy of el Sistema shows that the vicious circle of poverty can be broken when a child poor in material possessions acquires spiritual wealth through music. Our ideal is of a country in which art is within the reach of every citizen so that we can no longer talk about art being the property of the elite, but the heritage of the people."
The Sistema, Venezuela's radical music education scheme, has been seen as a means of improving the circumstances of young people trapped in poverty. With super-intensive music training at its heart, it has also produced some of the most exciting young musicians working today, including Gustavo Dudamel, music director of the Símon Bolívar National Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, and bass player Edicson Ruiz, who at 17 became the youngest ever member of the Berlin Philharmonic. Performances of the youth orchestra may not be technically perfect, but audiences find them irresistible, with the young people performing with an intensity of passion often missing from traditional symphony orchestras. As Dudamel says, they play as if they are playing each piece for the first - or the last - time.
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