The 76 members of Venezuela’s Simón Bolívar National Youth Choir performed concerts last Thursday and Friday at the Kennedy Center and the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington, DC, the last two shows of a U.S. tour by the group, the newest emblem of Venezuela’s System of Youth Orchestras and Choirs – often called El Sistema.
After their successful show at New York’s Lincoln Center, the Venezuelan choir left its mark on the Kennedy Center, where they sang for a diverse audience of music lovers, diplomats, journalists and critics, among them many Latin Americans and Venezuelans. The singers earned standing ovations for a concert that included two different repertoires; first, a set of sacred music by renaissance composers as well as contemporary ones, and second, traditional Venezuelan songs.
The popular songs performed by the Simón Bolívar Choir during the second half of the night included the famous “Gabán” by Rafael Suárez, with a solo by the tenor Cristo Vassilaco. For this set, the a capella show was accompanied by a traditional four-stringed cuatro, maracas and flute, and the music conveyed the enjoyment felt by the singers during pieces by Gilberto Rebolledo, Luis Laguna, Simón Díaz and Pablo Camacaro. The choir was led by its professor Lourdes Sánchez and assistant director Juan Gorrín, and solos were performed by Andrés Sulbarán (tenor and flute), Marilyng Viloria (on maracas), María Gómez (on cuatro).
Last Friday was the finale of the short U.S. tour, which ended at the Enrique Iglesias Hall at the Inter-American Development Bank, an institution that supports El Sistema. President Luis Alejandro Moreno had tapped the director for Venezuela and Panama, former Venezuelan Vice President Adina Bastidas, to offer some words before the concert. Bastidas talked about the group’s trajectory and the efforts by “El Sistema” founder Jose Abreu to bring peace and happiness to thousands of Venezuelan children. Meanwhile, the head of the Bank’s Cultural Section, Iván Duque, described its support for the youth music program, which recently unveiled a Center for Social Action for Music in Caracas, Venezuela’s capital city.
The Simón Bolívar Choir truly won over the audience in its last show in Washington, playing exclusively Venezuelan music and triggering applause and tears with its interpretations of the songs “Venezuela” by Herrero y Armenteros and “Alma Llanera,” during which Venezuelan flags were waved.
After the concert, Bastidas said: “There is no doubt here at the [Inter-American Development Bank] that our System of Orchestras and Choirs is an essential program for overcoming poverty in Latin America and in all the world, and that as well this effort to save and educate so many children and young people through music stimulates economic development among our peoples. This choir is a demonstration of the marvels of El Sistema, and that’s why the [Inter-American Development Bank] supports it and will continue supporting it.”
Minister Counselor Angelo Riveros, chargé d’affaires of the Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to the U.S., who was present at all of the concerts by the Simón Bolívar Choir in New York and Washington, said that “without a doubt, the best ambassadors Venezuela has are the young musicians and singers of El Sistema. We feel extremely proud to be able to help them with their first performances in the United States.”
This was the second tour by the choir sponsored by Citgo, the Venezuelan Sounds Foundation, the Venezuelan Embassy to the U.S. and the Office of the President of the Republic. The latter oversees the Fundación Musical Simón Bolívar, the organizing body of El Sistema, the National System of Youth Orchestras and Choirs.