08 December 2016
Gustavo Dudamel honored by Inter-American Development Bank for cultural & social work
Read Gustavo's speech, delivered at the December 14 ceremony, below.
"It is a great honor to be recognized with the Enrique Iglesias chair. I accept it on behalf of the thousands of children, youth and teachers who bring the National System of Youth and Children Orchestras and Choirs of Venezuela to life, and the more than 50 countries around the world that have taken this project on as their own.
I would like to begin with an anecdote: Two decades ago I had the opportunity to join the National Children’s Symphony of Venezuela to perform a concert at the Inter-American Development Bank. I was twelve years old at the time. We played the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and the last movement of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, two works that curiously share a common concept: fate. I remember that trip because it was the first time I left my country. I also remember it because, with the same fascination with which Aureliano Buendía discovered ice, that first night I discovered snow.
To recognize music as a vehicle for progress is to acknowledge music and art as the means to disseminate and promote values such as good, truth and beauty, using them as spiritual tools to break down social barriers, diminish and eradicate differences, unite people and foster growth.
In that sense, as Maestro José Antonio Abreu once said, music and art are the essential spirit of society. Music is intimately linked to our development, from the very birth of a child. It is part of those fundamental games that allow us to grow, and to acquire social and emotional skills, which are used every day in the real world. In other words, a child who lives with art and music is better prepared for the future than a child who lives without them.
I must say that, for me, music and art are as important as health care, education, mathematics and science, because they are nothing more and nothing less than the spiritual health of our citizens. More and more vehemently, scholars of social health are making less of the difference between the physical and the spiritual, giving the latter a fair place of importance. A child full of imagination and inspiration, a child who lives with them from an early age, has better tools to confront the avatars of the modern world than the child who only has access to scientific and pragmatic knowledge.
A few years ago, I visited the orchestra of a small town called Upata, located in the heart of the state of Bolívar in Southeastern Venezuela. I had recently been on tour with the Vienna Philharmonic, performing Antonín Dvorák’s New World Symphony. When we arrived in Upata, I was taken to a gymnasium where more than 3,000 children and their families were waiting to, as they always do, untie the knots of art and beauty. As fate would have it, the piece they performed was Dvorák’s New World. I must say, I have never heard a more correct and beautiful version than the one those young people gifted me with that night. After this moving performance, I was brought to the house where they rehearsed, a place immensely humble yet full of hope. I left there with my heart full of music, but also with a deep certainty: Art is future.
I once heard Maestro Abreu – who has been my inspiration and that of thousands of music patrons around the world – say that denying less fortunate children access to beauty and art is one of the worst crimes of the modern world. We must understand, my friends, that the spiritual vulnerability generated by poverty is reversible through music, art and inspiration. The child touched by beauty will never be the same.
From a sociological point of view, the argument is equally powerful: Once children or young people begin to appreciate the tangible results of art, they become everyday heroes, positive references and symbols of success for their families and community. I see it constantly: When children perform for the first time before their parents, a profound transformation takes place in their lives from that moment on, because they discover their own voice, their own identity, first for their family, later for their neighbors, and then for the rest of the world. Sport is also a powerful tool for social transformation. But I must say that in an orchestra, for example, all children are part of a single team, and the ultimate mission of the collective exercise is focused not on winning or losing, or defeating an opponent, but on the creation of collective harmony. An orchestra is successful only when all its members pursue the same dream and truly understand the value of the other, the transcendental importance of who is by your side. Can we then imagine a more beautiful metaphor to define a society, a country or a world?
Everything to which I make mention this evening is no longer a reckless perception or an idea without foundation. Today, we know in a scientific way how music and art are certainly instruments for development. It is worth mentioning the study carried out jointly between the Inter-American Development Bank and FundaMusical Simón Bolívar, which gave evidence that children and young people who experience beauty and inspiration as a daily activity, those who live the music, those that are part of it, improve their social, academic and personal behavior. It’s simple, access to art and music makes them better citizens. Let’s look at it this way: Music and art are a great machine for the future.
I recently had the honor of presenting the United States’ National Art Awards in Washington, DC. Among other things, at that time I said something that I would like to share with you: From the caves of Altamira to the canvases of Jackson Pollock, from the Sumerian hymns – the oldest musical piece known to man – to the enchanting music of Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda, art has always been a traveling companion of the human spirit. Today, I tell you that if all of us want a better future, we must ensure that this perennial traveling companion is always present.
In the same way that the 12-year-old boy discovered snow, and would never forget it, the exercise of beauty is an indelible mark that we can all give to thousands of children.
I deeply appreciate the wonderful work you are doing, and I implore you not waiver your commitment to this brilliant mission we have undertaken.
Thank you very much."