José Abreu, the founder of Venezuela’s world-renowned El Sistema program, has died aged 78. Tributes have been pouring out for the musician, who pursued social change and youth empowerment through ensemble music education, bringing music and hope to under-privileged children.

“With devoted love and eternal gratitude to my mentor and father of El Sistema,” Gustavo Dudamel, the Los Angeles Philharmonic music director and El Sistema’s highest profile alumna wrote on Twitter, along with a photograph of the maestro with Abreu. Dudamel, who has been unable to return to Venezuela after speaking out against President Nicolás Maduro’s government, has just been granted Spanish citizenship.

José Antonio Abreu, who was born on May 7, 1939, in Valera in Venezuela and studied music as well as economics, rose to international fame as a result of the success of Venezuela’s National System of Youth and Children’s Orchestras and Choirs, “El Sistema”, which he founded in 1975. The program, which Abreu started in a garage with nine musicians, has spread across South America and the world, bringing music education to children living in impoverished and challenging circumstances and now boasting a network of 300 choirs and orchestras including the flagship Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar.

Abreu received numerous...

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