When he was just 12 years old, Gustavo Dudamel, the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s electrifying music and artistic director, was already wielding a conductor’s baton and leading a chamber orchestra in his native Venezuela.
He got to his current podium thanks in large part to his participation in El Sistema, Venezuela’s vaunted music education program.
Now 35, Dudamel is the leader and founder of YOLA, Youth Orchestra Los Angeles, which annually gives 800 Los Angeles schoolchildren the same opportunities he had growing up. Based in three underserved L.A. neighborhoods (the Rampart District, South L.A. and East L.A.) and run by the L.A. Philharmonic, the 10-year-old orchestra provides instruments, intensive music training and academic support to its members, ages 6 to 17, empowering them to become passionate learners and vital citizens.
To celebrate its first decade, YOLA is going on the road this fall with its first tour, featuring 80 of its best musicians from all three sites. “We started very small, very humbly. It’s great to see the development of this dream,” says Dudamel, who says the key is treating the students just as he does the members of the L.A. Phil—“as artists.” Through the years, he’s watched the kids (some of whom are already off to colleges including Georgetown, UCLA and USC) mature into, as he puts it, “better citizens, in the sense that they help and teach others not only at the orchestra but at their schools. They are an example.”
The orchestra will play four dates in late October. YOLA’s regular conductor, Juan Felipe Molano, will lead the youth in Northridge, Visalia and Fresno. Dudamel—who’ll also tour the West Coast this fall with the Philharmonic—will conduct the final YOLA performance at Oakland’s historic 3,000-seat Art Deco Paramount Theatre. “What you are bringing them is not only the action of playing music,” says Dudamel, whose son, 5-year-old Martín, is already taking piano lessons. “It’s beauty. It’s inspiration. It’s hope. This is the thing that we can give to our children.” laphil.com
Written by Degen Pener and Melissa Goldstein.