JosÃ© Antonio Abreu Anselmi (born May 7, 1939) is a Venezuelan orchestra conductor, pianist, economist, educator, activist, and politician. He is Catholic. He was honored with the 2009 Latin Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences' Trustees Awards, the highest honor given to the career of personalities that have contributed to music by the organization that puts together the Latin GRAMMY Awards.
Politics and academics
Born in the city of Valera, Abreu graduated Â¨Summa Cum LaudeÂ¨ as an Economist at Universidad CatÃ³lica Andres Bello and he was awarded a PhD degree in Petroleum Economics from the same university in 1961. Abreu also did some graduate work at the University of Michigan. He served as a Deputy at the Chamber of Deputies in the Congress of Venezuela (1959-1964). After his political career, he also worked as a professor of economics and law at Universidad SimÃ³n BolÃvar and his Alma Mater. He would return to politics in 1983 to serve as Minister of Culture and president of the National Council of Culture. Abreu even served as president of the Economic Planning Commission but a combination of disillusionment and health problems made him leave politics and "devote myself entirely to music".
Abreu began to study music with Doralisa JimÃ©nez de Medina in Barquisimeto. Later, he attended the Caracas Musical Declamation Academy in 1957, where he studied piano with MoisÃ©s Moleiro, organ and harpsichord with Evencio Castellanos, and composition with Vicente Emilio Sojo. In 1967, he received the Symphonic Music National Prize for his musical ability. It was in 1975 that he founded El Sistema, formally known as the Foundation for the National Network of Youth and Children Orchestras of Venezuela.
This was an innovative youth education method in which music was the primary avenue for social and intellectual improvement. He received the National Music Prize for this work at El Sistema in 1979. Under Abreu's guidance, El Sistema has participated in exchange and cooperation programmes with Canada, Spain, Latin American countries and the United States.
Awards and recognition
In 1993, El Sistema was awarded the famous IMC-UNESCO International Music Prize in the institution class. UNESCO also appointed Abreu as a Special Ambassador for the Development of a Global Network of Youth and Children Orchestras and Choirs in 1995 and as a special representative for the development of network of orchestras within the framework of UNESCO's "World Movement of Youth and Children Orchestras and Choirs". This project was created in the context of an inter-disciplinary project "Towards a Culture of Peace". He co-ordinates the programme through the UNESCO office in Caracas. He was also designated a Goodwill Ambassador by UNESCO in 1998.
In 2001, Abreu was honoured with a Right Livelihood Award and was honored with the World Culture Open Creative Arts Award in 2004. Among his numerous awards are the Order of the Rising Sun, Grand Cordon (Japan, 2007), the Glenn Gould Prize (Canada, 2008), the Puccini International Prize (Italy, 2008), the Q Prize with former student and protÃ©gÃ© Gustavo Dudamel (USA, 2008) and honorary memberships at the Royal Philharmonic Society (2008, United Kingdom) and the Beethoven-Haus Society (Germany, 2008). Abreu is also co-founder and vice-chairman of YOA Orchestra of the Americas.
When the B'nai B'rith Venezuelan brand gave Abreu their B'nai B'rith Human Rights Award in 2008, Abreu succinctly summarized the goal of El Sistema and of his life's work by saying, "In the struggle for Human Rights, let us vigorously incorporate children's sublime right to music, in whose bosom shines Beingness in its splendor and its ineffable mystery. Let us reveal to our children the beauty of music and music shall reveal to our children the beauty of life.".
In 2008 received as director of El Sistema the Prince of Asturias Awards for arts. In 2009, Abreu received the Crystal Award of the World Economic Forum and the TED Prize, which consists of 100,000 dollars and one wish to change the world. The description for his awards is a clear description of the work he does at El Sistema as it reads, "the maestro who's transformed the lives of tens of thousands of kids... through classical music".
On May 12, 2009, Abreu was awarded the Polar Music Prize, given by the Royal Swedish Academy of Music. Abreu and Peter Gabriel, who also won, were presented with their awards by King Carl XVI Gustaf at a gala ceremony at the Stockholm Concert Hall on 31 August. The Royal Swedish Academy of Music said about Abreu:
The Polar Music Prize 2009 is awarded the Venezuelan conductor, composer and economist JosÃ© Antonio Abreu. Driven by a vision that the world of classical music can help improve the lives of Venezuelaâs children, he created the music network El Sistema, which has given hundreds of thousands the tools to leave poverty. JosÃ© Antonio Abreuâs successful creation has promoted traditional values, like respect, fellowship and humanity. His achievement shows us what is possible when music is made the common ground and thereby part of peopleâs everyday lives. Simultaneously, a new hope for the future has been given children and parents, as well as politicians. The vision of JosÃ© Antonio Abreu serves as a model to us all.
In 2010, Abreu was awarded Erasmus Prize. In 2012, Abreu was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Institute of Education, University of London in recognition of his services to music education and social change.
In 2012, Abreu was awarded a Honorary Degree from Carleton University for his âoutstanding contribution to the advancement of underprivileged youth through music and educationâ. He was awarded this degree, via video, on March 29, 2012 at Carleton University. The renowned Venezuelan SimÃ³n BolÃvar String Quartet performed in honour of Dr. Abreu. They were joined by the OrKidstra Quintet. OrKidstra is Ottawa's very own El Sistema program.
- Biography on Right Livelihood Award
- The Work of JosÃ© Antonio Abreu (Spanish)
- Personalities to the service of the Unesco (Spanish)
- Interview with JosÃ© Antonio Abreu
- "La cultura para los pobres no puede ser una pobre cultura". Interview with JosÃ© Antonio Abreu
- JosÃ© Antonio Abreu at TED
- TED Talks: Jose Abreu on kids transformed by music at TED in 2009
- Kajimoto Concert Management (supporting El Sistema's activities in Japan)