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This conductor wants you to reject an ‘elitist’ view of the symphony

Gustavo Dudamel is one of the world's most celebrated classical musicians, as well as conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Striving to make music more accessible, he is working with Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA), a program that offers free, high-quality music instruction to students in underserved communities. Dudamel speaks to Jeffrey Brown about why he sees art as "access to beauty."

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now, making beautiful music in and outside the concert hall.

    Jeffrey Brown takes us to Los Angeles for a look at the work of conductor Gustavo Dudamel and the orchestra he leads, now celebrating its 100th anniversary.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    At the Camino Nuevo Charter Academy, a public school in Los Angeles's MacArthur Park, the star of the show recently was L.A. Philharmonic conductor Gustavo Dudamel.

    He was there to open a new site for YOLA, the Youth Orchestra Los Angeles, a program to offer free high-quality music lessons and support to students in underserved communities.

  • Gustavo Dudamel:

    When I see them, I'm one of them. If I go back…

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    You feel that still?

  • Gustavo Dudamel:

    Completely.

    For me to do music, I have exactly the same feeling as when I was sitting in the orchestra for the first time, 9 years old, 10-years-old boy, playing in the middle of the second violin section of an orchestra of 500 musicians.

    And then we were playing. And that was like, wow, this is the thing.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    By now, Dudamel's own story is the stuff of legend, coming up through Venezuela's famed El Sistema program, created in 1975 by Jose Antonio Abreu, which has brought music lessons and orchestra training to hundreds of thousands of children, many from poor backgrounds.

    As a teenager, Dudamel became conductor of the program's Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra. And today, still just 37, he is one of the most celebrated classical musicians in the world.

    Ten years into his time as conductor in a city of stars, his image is everywhere. And he remains committed to changing the image of orchestras in today's culture.

  • Gustavo Dudamel:

    I think it's a representation of the community, the orchestra. We have to avoid that, I don't know how to call, but elitist way as we see arts.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Elitist?

  • Gustavo Dudamel:

    Elitist, yes, that we are on a mountain here, and the rest of the people is there. It's not about that.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    But a lot of people do see it that way, especially classical music.

  • Gustavo Dudamel:

    But we are transforming that.

    When the people see that they are represented by the best art, by the best culture, is the best. And that is what we want to create.

    Hi. How are you? We have the same hair.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    This year, the L.A. Philharmonic is celebrating its 100th anniversary in a grand style that began with a day-long street festival, and a free concert at the Hollywood Bowl featuring Katy Perry and other stars alongside the orchestra.

    They have commissioned 50 new works from contemporary composers, and Dudamel is presenting innovative collaborations, as this one with the choreographer Benjamin Millepied in Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet," in which dancers used unconventional spaces inside and out of Walt Disney Hall, itself a world famous building by architect Frank Gehry.

    Gehry is now designing a new home for the Philharmonic's youth program in an abandoned bank building in Inglewood, a majority Latino and African-American community.

    Music, Dudamel says over and over, is a fundamental human right.

  • Gustavo Dudamel:

    It's a big idea, but it's simple and it's very objective, because art is creativity. Art is access to beauty.

    And what our children in our times, they are not having access to that. We live a very pragmatical world, where you have to produce, you have to do this, you have to learn in that way.

    But where is the space to contemplation, to creativity, to work as a team to create beauty?

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    The immediate goal is to double the number of children participating, now at around 1,200.

    We visited YOLA at HOLA, an after-school program in the where children 6 and up have access to instruments, lessons, and orchestra practice.

    Occasionally, the mentoring here is peer-to-peer. Two young cellists, 16-year-old Zenaida Aparicio and 14-year-old Mariely Flores, attend nearby schools.

    Did you have the opportunity to play music at school?

  • Zenaida Aparicio:

    No. The only opportunity I had was here.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    And when you got here, what was it like?

  • Zenaida Aparicio:

    It was amazing. I got to experience things that I didn't figure I would get to experience.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Really? Like what?

  • Zenaida Aparicio:

    Like getting my own instrument, getting private lessons, like academic tutoring and stuff like that.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    What did you find when you got here?

  • Mariely Flores:

    I saw there was opportunities not only for certain people in this country, but that there was opportunities for people that need it the most.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Did you need it?

  • Mariely Flores:

    Yes, I did, because I'm not — well, I don't have enough money to pay for an instrument, lessons, and all those things. So, I found it here.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    What they have clearly also found here is a community of friends and mentors, including Maestro Dudamel himself.

    Did you get to meet Gustavo Dudamel?

  • Mariely Flores:

    It was pretty exciting, so many feelings just at once. He's a big person in our life.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    As Dudamel is moving forward in Los Angeles, his homeland of Venezuela is another story, after years of political, economic and humanitarian crisis. El Sistema is a government-funded program. And the Simon Bolivar Orchestra regularly performs at government functions.

    Dudamel has been strongly criticized at home for being too cozy with the regime of President Nicolas Maduro and not speaking out against his authoritarian policies.

    After Dudamel did write a New York Times op-ed last year critical of the government, Maduro responded by canceling two tours of the Bolivar Orchestra.

    I asked how this has shaped his own sense of what music and an orchestra can do.

  • Gustavo Dudamel:

    You have to understand your position and your role in the society. And I really believe that you can create bridges.

    For me, music has to unite. If you get from one side to the other, then you destroy that possibility to build a communication. That is the thing.

    But, of course, I suffer every single day of what is happening in my country, because I have my family there, and they suffer this thing. This has to change, and people have to take responsibility for that.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Here in Los Angeles in the meantime, the focus is on playing beautiful music and reaching more young people.

  • Gustavo Dudamel:

    Every child have access to music and to art. That is the dream. That is my dream, you know, to embrace the world with art.

    And it's not naive. That's it. It's simple. But that is the most beautiful thing.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Jeffrey Brown in Los Angeles.

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