A Classical Music Rock Star

Gustavo Dudamel

By the time he was thirty years old, world-famous conductor Gustavo Dudamel had been called “the lightning conductor” who could turn a solid old symphony into “molten lava.” Today, part of his long term plan is to recreate the youth orchestra program for street youth that has been so successful in his native Venezuela. 

When it comes to classical music, Gustavo Dudamel is a total rock star. At age thirty, he was (by far) the youngest conductor of a major orchestra anywhere in the world. With his wild hair, all-consuming passion, and lively sense of humor, he is also one of the most popular.

Gustavo was a musical genius as a child, and began winning international conducting prizes when he was barely out of high school. But what has always been extraordinary about Gustavo Dudamel is not only his talent, but the way he has chosen to use that gift to improve the world.

As of this writing, as well as being in his twelfth year as music director of the Venezuelan Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra, Dudamel is also in his second season as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. With his global reputation, he could have chosen to work with any orchestra in the world, but he chose the Los Angeles Philharmonic: and he did it for a very specific reason.

Dudamel, who came from a musical family in Venezuela, had his talent recognized and supported by “El Sistema” (The System)—a revolutionary music-training program in his home country that introduces poor kids, some of them street kids, to the discipline and self-esteem of great musicianship. Recognizing how The System changed his life, Dudamel decided to introduce the program to the United States, and the hard streets of Los Angeles were a perfect place to start. So, as part of his contract with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Gustavo Dudamel insisted on being given the money and time to start a youth orchestra.

The Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles gives poor and street youth a new focus in their lives and a new sense of accomplishment as they play to sold-out audiences at venues like the famous Hollywood Bowl. As well, Dudamel’s vision of spreading the idea across the U.S. is beginning to be realized, with new community and city youth orchestras being formed in several American cities.

Dudamel’s long-term dream is to see The System become as popular in other countries as it is in Venezuela, where 600 youth orchestras help a quarter of a million children stay out of trouble, develop self-discipline, and learn to believe in themselves.

Gustavo Dudamel knows firsthand that music can help change the lives of children and youth, and improve the society they live in.

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This is an excerpt from the book Inspiration to Live Your MAGIC!™, 75 Inspiring Biographies by Larry Anderson. It is available as a print book from Amazon.com and as a Kindle e-book.

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