My Week: Rodrigo Guerrero

London has gone crazy for Venezuela's Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra – and its development officer has been at the centre of the action
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The Independent Online


I'm the development officer for the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra, an orchestra made up 200 Venezuelan musicians and we're here in London for a five-day residency on the Southbank.

All the players have been taught classical music in a scheme called the State Foundation for the National System of Youth and Children's Orchestras of Venezuela (or Sistema). It's an umbrella scheme that covers over 200 orchestras in Venezuela. We have 183 schools that are free of charge for deprived kids to come and receive free musical education. This orchestra is made up of the best of our national selection. Today we go to the Royal Festival Hall and are greeted by their staff and are given a wonderful welcome. We have rehearsals before being invited on the London Eye. Then we have time to go around the town.


There are morning rehearsals and then a press conference, mainly about the mission of our visit, which is not just doing the concerts but to promote the idea of the programme. It's about classical music with a social purpose. Tonight it's incredible to see every seat in the house full for the first concert. The orchestra sees this week as a very big challenge as they know it is a very cultured audience. The concert goes so well and there is so much energy.


The rehearsal this morning has a full audience; you can't believe that rehearsals are interesting to anyone because it's really delicate work and if you don't really know classical music, it can be rather dull. In the afternoon there's a very interesting symposium about how these types of programmes are not just making great concerts but changing lives, so it's all very positive. The concert tonight starts at 7.30 and doesn't finish until 11.30, with several small chamber ensembles playing to another packed audience.


We have workshops with the artists in residence at the Southbank, and some traditional British music: there is a workshop with Shlomo, a beatboxer. There are also some great Indian dancing workshops. Later we have an invitation to visit the Houses of Parliament. An MP had invited us so we have tea on the terrace.


We do a family concert in the day; there are a lot of children from all over the UK in the audience who are in the In Harmony programme, an initiative inspired by Sistema. There is another symposium in the afternoon that looks at what the Sistema model in the UK would look like. The orchestra is tired after another concert in the evening. It's the biggest event tomorrow; Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring. But we're all thrilled to be here. None of us have been to London since the Proms, two years ago. The Proms was our breakthrough and we feel they have a real connection with audiences here.