Founder of the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra and the National Symphony Youth Orchestra Receives the Prestigious Triennial Prize from the Glenn Gould Foundation

TORONTO -- The illustrious Glenn Gould Prize, presented once every three years to a living luminary who has made an exceptional contribution to music and its communication to the public, has been awarded to musician, economist, educator, politician and founder of the Foundation for the National Network of Youth and Child Orchestras of Venezuela (“El Sistema”), Dr. José Antonio Abreu.

The five-member jury cited Dr. Abreu’s “contribution to creating a cultural renaissance in Venezuela and making a marked impact on an entire generation of youth through music” when choosing him from a distinguished list of candidates nominated by the public.

The jury consisted of internally renowned dramatic tenor Ben Heppner; Academy Award-winning British film director, playwright and screenwriter Anthony Minghella CBE; acclaimed pianist Hélène Mercier; composer, musician, author and satirist Peter Shickele, and influential performing arts executive Janice Price. The jury chair was Canadian Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Paul Hoffert, founding member of the band Lighthouse, established jazz recording artist, author and Internet guru.

Dr. Abreu will receive a cash award of $50,000 and the opportunity to name an exceptional young musician, in any discipline, from anywhere in the world to receive the $10,000 City of Toronto - Glenn Gould International Protégé Prize in Music. Previous Laureates are the esteemed artists Sir André Previn (2005); Pierre Boulez (2002); Yo-Yo Ma (1999); Toru Takemitsu (1996); Oscar Peterson C.C. (1993); Lord Yehudi Menuhin (1990), and R. Murray Schafer (1987). Previous Protégé winners are Roman Patkoló (2005); Jean-Guihen Queyras (2002); Wu Man (1999); Tan Dun (1996), and Benny Green (1993).

Jury Chair Paul Hoffert noted, "The jury was unanimous in its decision. We considered Glenn Gould's enormous impact on broadening audiences for music, transcending political boundaries, and achieving the highest level of excellence using innovative and sometimes controversial approaches.

Dr. José Antonio Abreu is an exemplar of those ideals. He devised "El Sistema," the National System of Children and Youth Orchestras of Venezuela that comprises more than 100,000 young musicians, most of whom would not otherwise be able to play an instrument, collaborate with their peers in an artistic endeavour, and earn the self- confidence that comes from achieving a difficult result with the application of hard work and talent. His unique contribution to the arts has withstood ten changes of governments ranging from the far right to the far left, all of which acknowledged and supported his musical and social objectives.

The jewels that have been produced from El Sistema's raw materials include the internationally acclaimed Simón Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela and Gustavo Dudamel, its charismatic 27 year old conductor, who has been named conductor-designate of the Los Angeles Philharmonic."

In 1975, Abreu began the work for which he is most famous: founding the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra and the National Symphony Youth Orchestra (NSYO). The success of the NSYO led to the establishment of youth orchestras in other Venezuelan states, and eventually to the development of the National System of Youth and Child Orchestras of Venezuela, under the auspices of a state foundation (FESNOJIV) popularly known as “El Sistema.” This system now involves 110,000 Venezuelans, grouped in 120 youth orchestras, 60 children’s orchestras, and a network of choirs, with musical training starting from age 2. The orchestras are based on 75 “cells” around every province of the country; there are also workshops in which children learn to build and repair instruments, special music-therapy programs for children with disabilities or learning difficulties, and specialist centres or institutes for phonology, audiovisuals, and higher musical education.

Explicitly oriented toward lower-income children, “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,” and it has been credited with improving the lives of scores of young people who might otherwise have been drawn into lives of crime and drug abuse. The program has, for instance, taken on and rehabilitated abandoned children. The orchestras have had a substantial social impact in the communities in which they are active. Studies have also shown that the young people involved in the orchestras also perform better in other areas of academic and social life.

Dr. Abreu’s unique system of musical education and awakening has attracted much international notice and acclaim—and has inspired similar initiatives in other Latin American and Caribbean countries. The Venezuelan National Symphony Children’s Orchestra excited much admiration in Europe in 1998, with a tour through France and Italy, and again in 2000, when it performed around Germany.

The Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra has recently been celebrated internationally in performances under the baton of the young conductor Gustavo Dudamel, who has been the orchestra's artistic director since 1999. The orchestra and Dudamel have made some acclaimed recordings—most recently, symphonies by Beethoven and Mahler for Deutsche Grammophon. In 2007, the orchestra made much-heralded debuts at the Proms in London (a concert broadcast live on BBC TV) and at Carnegie Hall in New York. To date the most visible and admired product of “El Sistema,” Dudamel will become music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2009. Appointed as Special Ambassador for the development of a Global Network of Youth and Children orchestras and choirs by UNESCO in 1995, he is also a special representative for UNESCO’s "World Movement of Youth and Children Orchestras and Choirs.”

“El Sistema” has recently been the subject of acclaimed international media attention, including an admiring profile in the New York Times Magazine and a story on 60 Minutes, and it was recently the subject of the documentary film Tocar y Luchar (To Play and to Struggle).

The Laureate and Protégé will be honoured with their awards in Toronto at a gala reception later this year.

About the Glenn Gould Foundation
The Glenn Gould Foundation is a registered charitable organization whose mission is to pay tribute to the legacy of Glenn Gould by embracing the future, celebrating brilliance, unlocking creativity and transforming lives through the power of music and art.  Established in 1983 in Toronto, the Foundation awards the prestigious Glenn Gould Prize and The City of Toronto Glenn Gould Protégé Prize once every three years.  Laureates of the prize are among the most distinguished artists of our time and are charged with selecting the recipient of The City of Toronto Glenn Gould Protégé Prize, which is awarded to an outstanding young musician with the promise of an exceptional lifetime contribution to the art.  For more information about The Glenn Gould Foundation and to support its mission, please visit

For more information please contact
Brian Levine
Executive Director
(416) 962-6200