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40th anniversary of El Sistema
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El Sistema 40th anniversary: Conductor Gustavo Dudamel says Venezuela project is "the most important thing apart from my family"

David Usborne in Caracas

Saturday 11 April 2015

Loud explosions after dark tend to make residents of Caracas nervous, but not if they come from behind the house of Frank Di Polo, who apparently can't resist a firework display whenever he has the excuse. He is at it again tonight, sending up three rockets in a row from the small patch of grass that is his lawn.

Family, not politics, is what tonight is about. Oh, and music. While we are here to toast the 34th wedding anniversary of Mr Di Polo and his wife Betty, there is something else afoot. Venezuela this year is marking the 40th anniversary of El Sistema, the widely admired national programme to expose hundreds of thousands of its children to music, teaching them instruments and letting them play in orchestras.

Amid all that ails this country today – an imploding economy, shortages of all kinds of basic goods and harsh repression by the government of Nicolás Maduro – El Sistema may be the last national institution around which most Venezuelans still proudly unite. Above all, they revere the man they call 'Maestro', José Antonio Abreu, a musician, economist and former cabinet minister, who started it all back in 1975.


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