World-famous conductor Gustavo Dudamel grew up in Venezuela and it was thanks to a programme to help children progress that he became a superstar in the world of classical music.
It was thanks to a support programme in his native Venezuela that conductor Gustavo Dudamel was launched on the path that lead him to become a superstar in the world of classical music.
Now he passes on his energy and enthusiasm to a new generation.
His two-week music leadership programme Encuentros brought together more than 100 young musicians from across the world to Los Angeles. All the mentors were famous international musicians from all around the world.
A dream come true
Violinist Ana Molina from Spain was one of the lucky few chosen by the Dudamel Foundation to participate.
"Now that I can see the moment coming, I still can't believe it," she said as she got ready to depart from her home town of Madrid. "I am super excited. It's a great dream for me to be able to live this experience. I am very excited to meet Dudamel. And I hope to enjoy it to the fullest and make the most of this opportunity."
Gustavo too sees it as an opportunity for him.
"It Is great when you work with young people because they are discovering everything," he says. "More than you give to them, they give to you. And that is a treasure."
Through his foundation, Gustavo wants to explore cultural unity and celebrate equality, beauty and respect through music. After two weeks of playing, connecting and rehearsing, the young musicians perform at the legendary Hollywood Bowl under the baton of the world-famous maestro.
"Gustavo is a powerhouse," says Jon Colon, a cello student from Puerto Rico. "And from the moment he walks in, the aura of the room changes. The whole energy and the vibe of the room changes. It's like everybody lightens up a little bit. He has a sort of charisma and this sort of power as a conductor that you don't ever see. I think he does things musically that people really, really enjoy, not just the musicians, but also the people outside of the stage. So I think it’s an absolutely incredible opportunity to be connected by Gustavo."
Over the years, 100s of young musicians across the Americas, Asia and Europe have participated in Gustavo and wife María Valverde's leadership programme, discovering the power of music for social change.
"The fact that the students come from 22 countries and form one identity on the programme is, I think, one of the most important things," says Dudamel. "These are kids, you know, coming from different backgrounds. And when you get together, the inspiration and the desire gets bigger."
"The first mission is to give them an opportunity to keep believing in music and to keep following their dreams," says Valverde. "And to make this experience a way of living in their communities. So to spread the message."
Growing up in Venezuela, Gustavo participated in a similar programme: El sistema. A place where social responsibility and musicianship go hand in hand.
He would later say that the programme saved his life.
"I believe that these values of working together, having goals in common makes all of the children that are part of El sistema and part of the programmes inspired by El sistema to be better citizens in the world," he says.
Helping disadvantaged children
Following this experience, in 2007 Dudamel and the LA Philharmonic created their own programme in Los Angeles - Young Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA) - to help disadvantaged children.
It provides free instruments, music training, and academic support. Youth programmes are at the heart of Gustavo Dudamel’s mission.
Around 1,700 kids and teenagers aged 6-18, benefit from it across five sites in LA. One of these sites is the emblematic Beckmen YOLA Center in Inglewood, housed in a former bank designed by Frank Gehry.
Horn player Sarah Willis is one of those giving master classes on the Encuentros programme.
"Building bridges is part of what we’re doing here at Encuentros and Yola," she says. "It’s basically the joining together of all these different cultures. And some of them come from very poor and sad backgrounds, but others come from privileged backgrounds and great teachers and great concert experiences, and they're all learning from each other."
"I think for them this opportunity is going to transform them on a human level," says trumpet player Marc Geujon. "It's really something that's exciting to see how the music, how this project is going to influence their way of being, and later on their humanity. And so I'm looking forward to seeing them grow.
"It connects me with the young Gustavo," says Dudamel. "That was sitting there with his friends, you know, dreaming, dreaming, you know, dreaming to enjoy and to bring joy to people. I think that is, at the end, the main goal."