By Penny Johnson, Contributing Author
Last month, Maestro José Antonio Abreu, founder of the Venezuelan musical miracle system known around the world as El Sistema, and Laureate of The Eighth Glenn Gould Prize, was chosen as the recipient of the 10th Seoul Peace Prize.
Awarded biennially since 1990, the Seoul Peace Prize was established to commemorate the success of the 24th Olympic Games held in Seoul, Korea in 1988 as the international prize "to herald the ardent hope for peace of the people of Korea which is the only divided nation in the world.” Lee Chul-seung, President of the Seoul Peace Prize Committee, stated that Abreu was selected “in recognition of his great dedication and contribution to the improvement of education and social welfare of youth and children in Venezuela.”
Established in 1975, El Sistema has been described as “a social movement of massive dimensions, that works using music as the instrument that makes the social integration of different Venezuelan population groups possible.” With over 125 youth orchestras in Venezuela, El Sistema currently reaches 250,000 children around the country and about ninety percent of the participants come from low-income households. While El Sistema has produced several gifted protégés such as Gustavo Dudamel, music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the goal of El Sistema is to utilize music education as a means of improving the lives of youth who might otherwise become involved in crime and drug abuse.
With the results of El Sistema felt around the world – models of the Venezuelan music education system have been adapted in over twenty countries – Abreu has been honoured with numerous awards and distinctions. In 2009, he received both the Polar Music Prize, and the TED Prize. As the recipient of the 10th Seoul Peace Prize – the only international peace award of the Republic of Korea – Abreu will travel to Seoul later this season, where he will attend an awards ceremony. He will receive a diploma, a plaque, and a cash prize of $200,000.
Candidates for the Seoul Peace Prize include those individuals and/or institutions that have made “great contributions to the harmony of mankind and world peace in each field of endeavor around the world regardless of nation, race, religion, or ideology.” According to Lee, more than 140 recommendations were received from forty-six countries.
Past recipients of the Seoul Peace Prize include former International Olympic Committee President, Juan Antonio Samaranch; former U.S. Secretary of State George Schultz; the organization Doctors Without Borders; former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan; and Muhammad Yunus for the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh. Doctors Without Borders, Annan and Yunus later went on to receive Nobel Peace prizes.