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El Sistema USA appears to be parting ways with New England Conservatory

January 5, 2011 | 11:13 am


The Venezuelan music-education program known as El Sistema has garnered global attention thanks to Gustavo Dudamel, who received free music training under the system as a boy and has since risen to the top ranks of international conductors.

In 2009, El Sistema USA took root to nurture similar youth programs throughout the United States. But the organization has recently run into problems with the New England Conservatory, where it currently  is based. According to a report this week in the Boston Globe, El Sistema USA is looking for a new home after the New England Conservatory indicated that it cannot support the program's plan to expand.

The Globe reported that the conservatory intends to honor its commitment to El Sistema USA's central program — the training of 50 graduate students through the 2013-14 academic year — but that it can't support the program's plan to expand at a cost of $125,000 to $400,000 a year.

There appear to be a lot of unknowns in this musical divorce, such as whether the conservatory will continue to pay the salaries of Mark Churchill, El Sistema USA's director, and other staff members.

In 2009, the conservatory launched its Abreu Fellows training program, one of the first major initiatives of El Sistema USA. The program is named after Jose Antonio Abreu, the founder of El Sistema in Venezuela.

The Abreu Fellows Program aims to provide tuition-free instruction and a living stipend for young postgraduate musicians who seek to develop El Sistema programs in the U.S. and beyond, according to the organization. The fellows range in age from 22 to 44 and are graduates of university or conservatory music programs.

After their fellowship, they will be required to devote at least one year to advance or found an El Sistema program outside Venezuela, according to the organization.

A spokeswoman for the New England Conservatory told the Globe that it has "considerable needs" that are closer to its core mission as a music conservatory.

In Venezuela, El Sistema receives much of its funding from the government of Hugo Chavez, the socialist president who has led the country since 1999. By contrast, El Sistema USA receives funding and support from a variety of private and nonprofit sources, including the New England Conservatory. 

-- David Ng

Photo: Jose Antonio Abreu. Credit: Yonhap News Agency / EPA


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