Julian Lloyd Webber: I'm doing a Dudamel over here - Features - Classical - The Independent

Julian Lloyd Webber: I'm doing a Dudamel over here

The Venezuelan conductor showed how poor children could become musicians. Julian Lloyd Webber explains how he was determined to do the same here. The result can be seen at the Proms on Sunday

On the night of August 19 2007, I was one among thousands of transfixed listeners in a sweltering Royal Albert Hall watching the young Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel putting the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra through its paces. Like everyone else in the audience, I was captivated by the young players' extraordinary passion and musicianship in Shostakovich's epic Tenth Symphony, and suitably caught up in the exuberance they exuded in Bernstein's Mambo. Here was world class playing of the highest professional standard – but what really struck a chord with me was that these children were not from privileged, moneyed backgrounds. Far from it. They were products of Venezuela's extraordinary social programme El Sistema, which – through the power of making music together – has saved many hundreds of thousands of children from lives of poverty and crime. So when I was asked, just a few weeks after the concert, by Schools Minister Andrew Adonis if I wanted to lead a similar programme in England, I didn't miss a beat. For if there is one single thread that has run through my life as a musician, it is my resolute belief that music is for everyone.

When I first attended lessons at the Royal College of Music Junior Department in the early 1960s, I soon became self-conscious that I was one of only a very few pupils who attended a fee-paying school. Sadly, that position is now completely reversed – almost all their pupils are at fee-paying schools. So it's to the present government's credit that not only is it continuing to back the In Harmony programme – which aims to bring music to every child – but that it has already expanded it from three to six projects. Why would they do that? As we were recently forcefully reminded by our Minister for the Arts, the government expects to see tangible results from its funding. Well, In Harmony is providing tangible results in spades!

In April 2009, following 18 months of preparation, In Harmony began with three pilot projects in the most disadvantaged areas of Lambeth, Liverpool and Norwich. It proved so successful that last year the Coalition Government (with support from Arts Council England) started four additional projects in Leeds, Gateshead, Nottingham, and Telford. At the same time, other Sistema-inspired programmes in England began to spring up independently. And now, on 1 September – almost exactly six years after the sensational Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra Prom – comes the icing on the cake: children from In Harmony Liverpool will appear on that same Royal Albert Hall platform, alongside the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, at the Proms. It will be 'lump in the throat' time for everyone who has been involved with In Harmony from the outset. A mere four years after its beginning, this is a magnificent achievement that shows just how far the children have progressed musically in an incredibly short space of time.

The Prom will also be a celebration of the personal journeys of In Harmony Liverpool's children, as well as demonstrating the pride and resilience of one of England's poorest communities. Most importantly, it will be a testament to music's power to change lives. And, beyond doubt, lives have been changed at West Everton's Faith Primary School, where In Harmony Liverpool is based.

In 2008 – before In Harmony – only 35 per cent of children at the school were achieving the required level of literacy. By 2010 – less than two years after In Harmony began there – that figure had jumped to more than 80 per cent, with a similar improvement also recorded in pupil's numeracy.

To quote from its 2012 Ofsted report: "It is very clear that participation in the 'In Harmony' programme has a much wider benefit for the pupils' personal and social development, as well as for their general educational attainment. While recognising the school's good fortune in being involved with the 'In Harmony' project, parents and staff speak passionately about the way that involvement in music has changed children's attitudes and expectations. As one parent said, 'music has given our children respect for themselves, respect for each other, and respect for education'."

Yet, in all honesty, when I was first invited to Venezuela in 2008 by El Sistema's founder, José Antonio Abreu, I had heard so much hype about El Sistema that I was more than ready to be disappointed. I can only say that the reality was more impressive than anything I'd been led to believe. From that point on, I became determined that as many people as possible involved with Sistema-based programmes in England should experience El Sistema.

Earlier this year, the Sistema England charity, which I chair, sent project leaders and music tutors from In Harmony to Venezuela to see El Sistema at first hand. They visited nucleos (community centres) across the country and talked with individual children, parents and tutors; and they met the inspirational Antonio Abreu, They saw that, even though it is primarily a social programme, there is no social change without the achievement of musical excellence. Only when the children see that, through hard work, they can perform even the most challenging music, do they then gain the confidence to strive towards anything else they may want in life. The English tutors also met Lennar Acosta, a young man who grew up in the streets of Caracas, leading a life of crime, until the power of music inspired him to change. In his words: "I exchanged my gun for a clarinet". Like so many others, music transformed Lennar's life, and he now leads a nucleo that engages 1,000 children from the barrios of Caracas.

El Sistema's success has become a global phenomenon – all over the world, Sistema-inspired programmes are springing up almost every day, regardless of political system. The key to their success is that they are not just music education projects; they are social programmes with music at their heart. When times are tough, the strain on communities becomes greater. Music can be the inspiration – even the glue if you like – that can bind them together, because music demands equality. It knows no boundaries of language, race or background. All the players are equal – working and playing together In Harmony. See it for yourself on 1 September.

In Harmony will make their debut in Prom 66 at the Royal Albert Hall, London SW7 (0845 401 5040; bbc.co.uk/proms) in 'The Big Proms Bear Hunt' on 1 September at 4pm

Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week