"This award is given in special recognition of an organization or person that has made an exceptional contribution to expanding the boundaries of classical music," said Leonard Bernstein's son, Alexander Bernstein, who presented the award at Carnegie Hall before a rehearsal on November 10. The award is part of a partnership between the New York Times-owned-and-operated classical music radio station and the British magazine, Gramophone.
Bernstein fils called the orchestra a "hope-filled example of the transformative power of music.
"This orchestra, you, Maestro Dudamel, and the awesome 'System' [El Sistema, the remarkable state foundation overseeing 125 youth orchestras and an instrument training program] put in place in Venezuela by Dr. [Jos_ Antonio] Abreu embody the spirit and purpose of my father's entire life in music and education," he said. "Your fearlessness, hard work, commitment, love and respect for one another, and sheer joy in music-making are a marvel that would surely leave even Leonard Bernstein speechless."
Bernstein was asked to present the award on behalf of WQXR because of the youth orchestra's fondness for and connection with his father's music. "We thought it would be a wonderful welcome to New York City," said WQXR program director Margaret Mercer.
The orchestra under 26-year-old Dudamel made its New York debut yesterday as part of Carnegie Hall's "Berlin in Lights" festival. They will appear again tonight, performing Bart‹k's Concerto for Orchestra and Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10.
The Sim‹n Bol‹var Youth Orchestra of Venezuela was founded in 1975 by Abreu, an economist and musician, under the auspices of the Fundacion del Estado para el Sistema Nacional de las Orquestas Juveniles e Infantiles de Venezuela (as El Sistema is formally known). The scope of El Sistema's reach, along with the extraordinary musicians it has produced, including Dudamel, have rendered it an unparalleled national achievement.
"Jos_ Antonio Abreu...has shown that music is a force for social change," said Bernstein.