El Sistema Founder Jose Antonio Abreu to Receive Honorary Doctorate

March 12, 2013

CIM will add an international cultural icon to its illustrious list of Honorary Doctorates at the 88th Annual Commencement Ceremony on May 18, 2013 in the conservatory’s Kulas Hall. Venezuelan pianist, economist, educator, activist and politician José Abreu will be recognized for his greatest musical achievement – the founding of El Sistema.

Jose Abreu“Dr. José Antonio Abreu’s resilient belief in the life-changing power of music and music education for the young articulates what all musicians know: music study has the power to change one’s deepest being,” said CIM President Joel Smirnoff. “The Cleveland Institute of Music is extremely honored to bring Dr. Abreu to Cleveland to meet our community and to receive our Honorary Doctorate. Through his creation of El Sistema, the lives of young people are changed every day in Cleveland and in communities all over the world.”

Dr. Abreu’s El Sistema is a tested model of how a music program can both create great musicians and dramatically change the life trajectory of thousands of a nation’s neediest children. Dr. Abreu believed in a better future for Venezuela, aiming to change people and structures through music – making an orchestra a place of togetherness for children to learn to listen and respect one another. The program has been so successful at using music as a common language that it has been adapted in countries world-wide. In Cleveland, The Rainey Institute partnered with CIM alumna and Cleveland Orchestra musician Isabel Trautwein to launch an El Sistema program in 2011. Ms. Trautwein is among alumni who will also receive awards at commencement.

Following a theme of “Community” last year, President Smirnoff declared 2012-13 CIM’s “Year of Culture.”

“The Cleveland Institute of Music wishes to instill a deep sense of community in its students, encouraging them to know Cleveland’s community and to share their music, through performance and teaching,” President Smirnoff said. “At El Sistema@Rainey Institute, led by alumna Isabel Trautwein, the children of Cleveland are experiencing the positive power of music and of culture. These young people will, henceforth, retain a deep and lifelong appreciation of the worth of culture.”

Born in Venezuela in the late ‘30s, Dr. Abreu earned a Ph.D. in petroleum economics and later graduated as a composer and organist from a Venezuelan conservatory. Within ten years, he utilized both his economics and music backgrounds to begin El Sistema, helping to bridge the gulf between the rich and the poor in his country. The success of the National Symphony Youth Orchestra led to the establishment of other youth orchestras in other Venezuelan States.

His work has earned him the 2009 Crystal Award of the World Economic forum and the TED Prize. In 2001, he was honored with a Right Livelihood Award and four years later, the World Culture Open Creative Arts Award. Numerous other awards include the Order of the Rising Sun, Grand Cordon (Japan ’07), the Glenn Gould Prize (Canada ’08), the Puccini International Prize (Italy ’08), the Q Prize with protégé Gustavo Dudamel (US ’08) and honorary memberships at the Royal Philharmonic Society (UK ’08) and the Beethoven-Haus Society (Germany ’08). In 2009, Dr. Abreu and Peter Gabriel were both awarded the Polar Music Prize, given by the Royal Swedish Academy of Music and presented by King Carl XVI Gustaf.

Dr. Abreu served as Venezuela’s Minister of Culture and President of its National Council for Culture. In 1998, he received the title “Ambassador for Peace” from UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. In 2008, he received the Prince of Asturias Arts Award and the Légion d’honneur of France. He holds an honorary degree from the Metropolitana University, Caracas.

CIM’s Commencement Ceremony is closed to the public.

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