¡Bienvenido LA Phil!

Greetings from Caracas, Venezuela! After a somewhat brutal travel day yesterday (I left my house at 7:15a and arrived at the hotel in Caracas after midnight), we’re all just sort of trying our best to relax a little bit before the buses arrive to take us to the concert hall this afternoon. The work begins right away for the LA Philharmonic, who will play their first concert ever in Venezuela tonight. Mahler’s epic 9th Symphony.

As I walk through the hallways of our hotel I can hear various strains of that glorious symphony wafting from the rooms of many of the musicians. Brass players keeping their lips in shape after a day with virtually no time to practice. String players finding out how their delicate instruments have adjusted to the South American humidity—in some cases replacing strings at the last minute. Woodwind players finding that perfect reed.

To say this visit by the LA Philharmonic is highly anticipated would be a gross understatement. The orchestra was personally met at the airport by Maestro José Antonio Abreu, the visionary founder of El Sistema (the vast network here in Venezuela of music education “núcleos”). Maestro Abreu shook the hand of each musician of the LA Phil as they deplaned, welcoming the orchestra to Venezuela even before they cleared customs. The concert-going public here in Caracas is also quite eager to hear the Philharmonic. There are already reports of frustration at the box office as they are having to turn folks away. And Gustavo Dudamel himself is positively giddy to have his LA mates here on his native soil.

Dudamel, by the way, is typically extremely busy. He arrived in Caracas before the LA Phil. The past three nights have seen him conduct three different Mahler Symphonies with the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela (SBSOV). Tonight’s Mahler 9 performance will make it four symphonies in four days.

Much more to come in the days ahead. I’ll be interviewing several El Sistema officials this afternoon as well as a couple of musicians in the SBSOV. More interviews Sunday and a visit on Monday to one of the Sistema núcleos. Check back here at the blog for more soon…listen for my report Monday (and beyond) on Spotlight on the Arts…and for the most recent updates, follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/briankusc.

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