Simón Bolívar Wows TO
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Simón Bolívar Wows TO

The Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.

Toronto’s finest gathered at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts on Monday to see and hear 250 teenagers from Venezuela. The world-renowned Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel (the Mick Jagger of orchestral music), awed the packed house for more than two and a half hours.
The evening was in honour of Dr. José Antonio Abreu, the eighth Glenn Gould Prize Laureate recipient. Given out by the Glenn Gould Foundation, the prize is awarded to an individual for a unique lifetime contribution to improving the human condition through music and communication.
Thirty-four years ago, Abreu founded El Sistema in Venezuela, a program that uses music education to help impoverished youth, aged two to twenty, escape the barrios and achieve their full potential. To date, more than a million kids have gone through the program. The Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra is a product of Abreu’s efforts.

Dr. José Antonio Abreu accepts the Glenn Gould Prize Laureate.

The evening began with the presentation of the prize. In Spanish, Abreu said, “It’s with profound emotion that I receive this award on behalf of every member of the orchestra.”
What followed was truly an anomaly in the city of Toronto. The world-class orchestra captivated and excited the audience to a degree rarely seen in a town known for its subdued and unresponsive spectators. There were standing ovations at the end of every movement, and Venezuelan flags soaring through the theatre. The audience clapped in synchronization after their last arrangement, demanding an encore. After the orchestra performed their famed rendition of West Side Story’s “Mambo,” complete with dancing and instrument tossing, the crowd remained on its feet, wanting more. Even after the second encore of Alberto Ginastera’s “Danza from Estancia,” the cheers didn’t stop. After the members of the orchestra glanced around at each other for several minutes, trying to figure out what to do, Dudamel rested his curly-haired head on his hands, suggesting it was time for them to go to bed. They waved goodbye, and finally left the stage.
The orchestra will be taking part in a number of events in the city this week. On Tuesday, they’ll be doing high school tours and community outreach. On Wednesday, they’ll be at the Royal Conservatory of Music, presenting a one-day symposium on music education. And finally, they’ll be performing again at the Roger’s Centre for an audience of youths from across the province.
The prize that Abreu won came with $150,000. He’ll be spending most of that on instruments for his pupils back home.
All photos by Nick Kozak/Torontoist.