Gathering 600 musicians on stage at the same time, it's understandable why Mahler's Eighth symphony is also known as the Symphony of a Thousand.
The Venezuelan Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra opened a series of concerts at the world famous Salzburg festival with one of the composer's most impressive works.
At the conductors' stand they were led by the maestro, Gustavo Dudamel, who was thrilled to work with so many performers at once: "For a conductor it's a unique opportunity to have this amount of people there playing this amazing music, trusting in you that you will guide them in the right way. It's a magic moment."
The orchestra is celebrated worldwide for its unique sound. The classical repertoire, evoking Mahler himself, is played with fiery temperament. The reason, as Dudamel explains, is the blend of European and South American influence: "We have learned a lot of the European culture because it's natural when you do this classical music. But we create it our own way."
The orchestra is part of El Sistema – the legendary music education scheme where children learn instruments for free in order to keep them off the streets. Almost 400,000 young people are currently involved in the project and many of them live below the poverty line. Only the finest musicians, however, make it to the Simón Bolívar Orchestra, the program's flagship band. Most of the members have played together for nearly two decades, creating a strong bond between the orchestra and Dudamel, their 32-year old conductor. As he explains: "We are brothers and sisters. For me some of them are my children. The orchestra also has a special charisma. You feel the human connection that is unique because in the different orchestras you come from a conservatory, or from a different country but the Simón Bolívar is different. We are coming from the same school, from the same teachers, with exactly the same technique. Putting that together with the human connection and the love and the passion we have created this kind of earthquake. And I'm just one more. I'm part of the group. We are one. We became one body."
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