SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
We're also looking back at the year through the eyes and ears of some of our regular contributors.
MARIN ALSOP: 2012 was a year that classical music in South America took a new place on the world stage.
SIMON: That's our friend Marin Alsop, who's music director of the Baltimore Symphony, also chief conductor of the Sao Paolo Symphony. She joins us now from the studios of WYPR in Baltimore. Marin, thanks so much for being with us.
ALSOP: Great to be here, Scott. Thank you.
SIMON: What has made this such a big year for classical music in South America?
ALSOP: Well, it's not as though it just started this year. This is the - not even the arrival - it's just a moment and a long gestation period. Everyone, I think, has heard about the incredible program in Venezuela called El Sistema. And we know Gustavo Dudamel as a, you know, a product of this amazing program, which has been going for 40 years. And then in Brazil, there's a program, state-run program called Goree, which was started by Catholic nuns years ago. But these are programs that are not just about music. They're programs that are about society and changing the fabric of how young people interact. And therefore, they are changing the landscape of the future for all of these people.
SIMON: Now, you have a, not just a front-row seat, I mean, you're the director of the Sao Paolo Symphony. And you and the Sao Paolo Symphony Orchestra appeared this past summer at the Proms in London. This is the famous series of concerts at the Royal Albert Hall. In fact, let's listen to a little of it.
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ALSOP: Oh, it was so incredibly exciting, like a great football match almost.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: What a way to finish their first-ever concert here in Britain, the Sao Paolo Symphony Orchestra playing...
ALSOP: We were the first Brazilian orchestra to ever appear at the Proms. The tickets sold out in 24 hours. So, there was incredible interest and support. And we had people in the audience with Brazilian flags. And I would say there are similarities between their passion for football and their passion for classical music these days. there's a philosophy in South America, in Brazil particularly, that classical music, by playing an instrument, by playing in an orchestra, this can influence the way young people look at themselves, look at the world around them. They believe that it promotes peace, it promotes tolerance, acceptance, respect. And classical musicians are absolutely revered.
SIMON: It's irresistible to point that this is occurring in Brazil and other places in Latin America at a time when there have been all kinds of cutbacks to music programs in a lot of elementary and secondary schools in the U.S.
ALSOP: Yes. This is what is so incredibly painful for me as a U.S. citizen to see how shortsighted we can be here. The governments in South America, and private funders as well - there are many government programs and many private programs - they understand the value of adding to quality of life, to offering alternatives for young people, to enabling everyone to experience life through art, and it really has changed lives dramatically.
SIMON: And you've kind of taken a cue with the program you have there in Baltimore.
ALSOP: In Baltimore, we're trying to do something along the same lines as El Sistema, but geared toward our own community. And five years ago we started a program called OrchKids - Orchestra Kids - with 30 kids from Baltimore public school system. And today, we have 600 young people. And these kids, you know, five years ago, they never dreamt the would play the violin or the trombone. And so they suddenly see the world opening up to them in terms of possibility. They can envision themselves doing things that they never could envision before. They learn motivation. They learn time management. They learn discipline. They learn how to work with each other. They have extended families through these ensembles and orchestras. They learn about mutual respect. And, most importantly, I think they learn that it's important to be part of a society, a larger society, and what their individual roles are.
SIMON: Any hopes for 2013, Marin?
ALSOP: Well, in our incredible country of abundance here in the United States, I hope that we can look at our priorities. I would love to see every child have access to a musical instrument and to be able to play in extended families of orchestras. You know, when a young person named Lennar Acosta was just a early teenager, he was given - in Venezuela - he was given a clarinet, and he said it felt very different from a gun. And it changed his life.
SIMON: Marin Alsop. Music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and principal conductor of the Sao Paolo Symphony. She's written an essay, by the way, on classical music in South America that appears on our website, nprm.org. Maestra, thanks very much. All the best for the new year.
ALSOP: Thank you, Scott. Happy New Year to everyone.
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SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
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