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With your help, this page will become a collection of material written by our community in homage to José Antonio Abreu.  We want to hear and share all of  your stories and memories!  To submit your story for publication here, please complete this short form below.  #GraciasMaestroAbreu

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A Letter from our Executive Director

Dear Maestro Abreu,

I learned of your death this Saturday, after a long day of rehearsal. My heart broke at the news and at the same time was grateful.  After tireless pursuit of a better world for all of us, you deserve rest. You would not take it while you were alive, and even in death your legacy is driving us to do better, to do more —  always.

The concert this weekend was Beethoven’s Third Symphony, the “Eroica,” and the funeral march was not yours. Yours instead was the hero’s welcome, the surging, jubilant, wonderful mess of strings, timpani, and brass, all racing to the finish. I was out of my seat with emotion as I played, thinking of the first time I met you on stage in Caracas, thinking of all the times I had seen you since, all over the world, as you followed your youth orchestras from their childhood into overwhelmingly successful careers. You followed all of us, you knew all of us, and you supported us to “luchar” for our better selves.

Your beloved “Sistema” has survived regime changes, political upheaval, and national tragedies. Because of the way you taught us to be —  passionate teachers, contributors, and citizen artists — it will survive around the world for many generations to come. We continue to “trust the young.” I hope you knew about the youth movement to end gun violence in the United States now; I attended a protest march in Durham during the break Saturday between rehearsals. It was full of music – you would have been proud of them. You would have encouraged their spirit.

Thank you for sharing the power of music to change hearts and minds, to change lives, and to change the future for children living in poverty all over the world. Your spirit lives on in the 2 million students and musicians in Sistema-inspired programs around the world, and you will be cherished and remembered.

With love,



Executive Director, El Sistema USA


Letters From the Field


Queridos todos, se nos fue el Maestro. Se nos fue sólo físicamente. Su legado vivirá por siempre entre nosotros y tocará generaciones futuras aquí y en todo el mundo. La influencia de un buen maestro, dijo Derek Bok, quien fue presidente de Harvard, dura por toda la eternidad. Por eso les escribo, para expresarles mi tristeza, devoción y admiración por la partida de alguien a quien quise, respeté y admiré tanto, a alguien que me privilegió con su amistad. No tengo que explicárselos, porque sé que ustedes piensan de igual manera. Ahora tienen que seguir transmitiendo lo que aprendieron de ese genio que los guio, que los enseñó, que los iluminó.

Quisiera que El Sistema continuara siendo lo que el Maestro concibió y consolidó. Estoy convencida de que es la obra de mayor envergadura, la verdadera revolución en la historia de Venezuela y en muchos lugares del mundo donde se ha implantado. Está en manos suyas que siga siendo lo que ha sido hasta ahora: el remedio contra la mediocridad, ese cáncer que se ha expandido por toda nuestra patria. Y ésa es una enorme responsabilidad y un gigantesco reto, más en la situación por la que pasa Venezuela hoy. Ustedes que estuvieron cerca de él tienen el testigo en sus manos. Conocen la prédica del Maestro. Sus métodos y metas. Su orden impecable, sus niveles de exigencia, su perfección. No pueden bajar ni un milímetro esos estándares. Se lo deben al Maestro, se lo deben a ustedes mismos, se lo deben al país.

Cuando José Antonio Abreu fundó El Sistema, Venezuela era el país con la mayor clase media de América Latina. La idea era que mediante la inclusión a través de la música, esa clase media creciera y se fortaleciera. Desgraciadamente todo cambió para mal. Todo menos El Sistema, que continuó su vertiginoso ascenso a cumbres nunca vividas en nuestro país. El círculo virtuoso de valores se extendía hacia toda la familia de sus integrantes. No podemos permitir que la marginalidad gane esa batalla. Es una lucha titánica, pero se puede, con todas las herramientas que el Maestro Abreu les legó.

Uno de los primeros artículos que yo escribí fue sobre la obra de José Antonio Abreu. Y desde entonces he escrito mucho sobre él, sobre ustedes, sobre las orquestas y los coros. Creo firmemente que ése es el camino. Por favor, ayuden al país a transitarlo.


Name: Eduardo M. Cedeño
Your José Antonio Abreu Story: As a founding member of the Simon Bolivar Orchestra, Director and Conductor of the Merida Symphony Orchestra, I worked under the acclaimed José Antonio Abreu, founder of El Sistema and the Orquesta Nacional Juvenil de Venezuela. I was privileged to conduct under his direction and leadership for several years. Because of his mentorship, I have been able to establish adult and youth orchestras which have made an impact in our local community. His invaluable teachings and spirit live on in my life and in the lives of those who I continue to reach through music and music education. I’m forever grateful for the trust and friendship he blessed me with. We will continue “Tochar y Luchar”.


Name: Dave Ferguson
Your José Antonio Abreu Story: As I was beginning the Caesura Youth Orchestra in Glendale, CA, I attended a concert with the Simon Bolivar orchestra at Disney Hall. To my surprise, I found myself sitting about two rows from Maestro Abreu. During the intermission, we had the opportunity to visit. It was such an inspiration to meet him and visit with him. A picture of our visit is on the homepage of our website.


In Memoriam – Maestro José Antonio Abreu
May 7, 1939 – March 24, 2018
The entire Sistema Global community joins the world in remembering the vision, inspiration and commitment of Maestro José Antonio Abreu. This incredibly kind, giving and beloved individual made an impact on the world that is truly beyond measure.
He believed that to have music in one’s life is a basic human right. He changed the idea of making classical music from something reserved for the elite to something essential in the lives of everyone. He believed in social justice and in our responsibility to provide it for children all over the world and for everyone considered to be marginalized. He was so committed and persuasive that he was able to engage world leaders and international change-makers to support his program as well. Today, orchestras around the world engage their communities like never before, providing such opportunities to the poorest and most underserved among us.
Maestro Abreu has always been a constant inspiration to all of us. I had the honor of being part of the original El Sistema movement along with my siblings in the early 70s, and I have vivid memories of the kids running to him as a father figure. It was as if he was a magnet for the children. I witnessed the same thing years later when invited back to teach for the program in Barquisimeto and Caracas. This is when he was in his element and seemed so sincerely happy.
As world renowned as Maestro Abreu became, the movement was never about him. It was always about the children and the positive impact he could create for their future. Rather than focusing on our sadness at his passing, we should instead focus on our joy and be inspired to share the joy of our work on behalf of the children of the world. That is what Maestro would have wanted us to do.
Thank you Maestro… we all shall be eternally grateful… thank you…
Dr. Gisela Flanigan, Sistema Global Executive Director

Name: Wendy Cilman
Your José Antonio Abreu Story: I attended a forum on music education at Cal Performances where Maestros Abreu and Dudamel presented an informal talk. Maestro Abreu was speaking through an interpreter, telling the story of how he started El sistema with 7 students in a living room. It was a familiar story and I wasn’t paying much attention to this small, elderly man. He seemed to be going on and on about fairly mundane things. Suddenly he said something so incredibly profound and insightful it was like a lightning bolt. It validated all the effort I have ever put into my career in working with kids and music. It motivated me to learn more about El sistema. A few years later, Simply Strings, the Santa Rosa Symphony’s El sistema-inspired program, enticed me to accept the Symphony’s job as Director of Education and to move to Santa Rosa.

“It’s art that humanizes the citizenship.” Thank you, Maestro Abreu.


March 26, 2018
Dear Sir/Madam
I read in a newspaper that Dr. Jose Antonio Abreu passed away on March 25th. I write to send you my sincerest condolences. I first met him when he visited Seoul in 2010 to receive the 10th Seoul Peace Prize. He did not lose a mild smile in a tight schedule, and he talked with many people about the activities of El-sistema. I was pleased to see that he had watched Korean traditional performances and shook hands with performers to encourage them.Although Dr. Jose Antonio Abreu is not with us, his achievements that he has made will be a great strength for many people who are in a difficult environment all over the world forever.Yours sincerely,
Kwon E-hyock
Olympic Park, 424, Olympic-ro, Songpa-gu, Seoul 05540 Korea


Published by Our Partners

El abuelo que vino con su musica / The Story of His Life

[Excerpted from the New York Times]

A Protégé and a Legacy

When he died last Saturday at 78, José Antonio Abreu was widely remembered as the founder of El Sistema, Venezuela’s system of free music education and youth orchestras — and as the mentor of the conductor Gustavo Dudamel, one of classical music’s most famous figures. His influence spread further through the proliferation of youth orchestras in underserved communities inspired by El Sistema. Here Mr. Dudamel leads one of them, the Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (known as YOLA), in a bit of Beethoven’s Ninth. Sure, older musicians might have more polish, but it would be hard to top the visceral excitement of watching this ensemble’s young timpanist beat his way into the boffo ending, live at the Hollywood Bowl. MICHAEL COOPER

Read our obituary of Mr. Abreu here.


NPR article featuring Alvaro Rodas, member of the inaugural class of Sistema Fellows, Executive Director of Nucleo Corona, NY.


Read The World Ensemble’s Special Edition Newsletter here.


“When Maestro José Antonio Abreu lifted his baton, magic sparked to life. Young people from diverse backgrounds played classical music that could take your breath away, yes, but something deeper transpired too — they demonstrated the skills for both personal and cultural thriving.” Read the full TEDBlog post here.



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