Mahler’s Fifth symphony performed by the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Gustavo Dudamel was greeted with a standing ovation more familiar to football matches than classical music concerts. Grey haired matrons whistled loudly, waved tee-shirts with the word ‘Venezuela’ imprinted on them, and shouted encouragement to the young musicians on stage below them.
Prior to the concert Norman Lebrecht discussed the Adagietto from the fifth movement famous from its use in the Visconti film ‘Death in Venice’ with an enthusiastic audience of 600, with standing room only, in the igloo shaped BP Hall.
The SBSO represents the top 200 young musicians from El Sistema which has 380,000 young Venezuelans learning to play instruments after school and providing them with the opportunity to make careers in the many orchestras now flourishing in Venezuela. Marshall Marcus who has been involved with El Sistema since its inception in Venezuela described how El Sistema reaches all groups in society but in particular its aim is to reach the street kids and engage them. Classical music in Venezuela does not come with the elite baggage that is part of the European experience. Two of the violinist in figure-hugging black evening dresses sway to the music as they wait for their cue to come in, the drummer taps his feet to Mahler – surely this must have been how Mahler would have wanted his music to be played in the future.