In late August we welcome the Sistema Europe Youth Orchestra to Southbank Centre to perform an energetic programme which takes in Latin American rhythms, celebrates Leonard Bernstein on the 100th anniversary of his birth, showcases new music by British composer Errollyn Wallen, and revisits orchestral classics from Holst and Handel.
But who exactly are the Sistema Europe Youth Orchestra?
Though European in name, the concept of SEYO (Sistema Europe Youth Orchestra) actually began in South America. El Sistema is a social action music programme that was founded in Venezuela in 1975 by the remarkable conductor, pianist, educator, and activist José Antonio Abreu.
In the words of Gustavo Dudamel, Music Director of the El Sistema project in Venezuela, ‘Abreu taught us that art is a universal right and that inspiration and beauty irreversibly transform the soul of a child and make them a better, healthier and happier human being, and, in turn, a better citizen'. Though Abreu sadly passed away earlier this year, the programme - both in Venezuela and Europe - continues to focus on intensive and joyful music making as a vehicle for social development and enhancing communities.
Inevitably, Abreu’s El Sistema concept spawned similar orchestras across the world as musicians looked to inspire their own countries and communities through music. In 2012 SEYO was formed, as a network for all the Sistema-inspired organisations and individuals that were carrying out activities across the continent, and a means to take forward the initial vision of Abreu throughout Europe.
SEYO are happy to defy the stereotypes of orchestral performances and concerts. Their performances have seen the members of the orchestra wearing fancy dress, and even novelty wigs and masks, and - enforcing the idea that music should be accessible - they’ll happily rehearse in any space available. Any space.
Bringing together children from 15 different European nations certainly has its challenges but the incredible young people who make up SEYO, don’t see language as one of them. Not speaking the same language ‘is not a problem,’ according to Greek violinist, Danai Papazoglu. ‘We have a lot in common. We play the same instruments and read the same score’.
On 6 November 2016, a few children gathered in front of a container at the Skaramagas Refugee Camp on the outskirts of Athens, waiting for their first ever music class to begin. This was just one of a number of classes delivered freely by El Sistema Greece across a number of camps, to give refugee children from the Middle East the opportunity to experience music and the positive experiences it can bring.
It’s important to remember that SEYO are more than just a social project; they are a collective of committed and talented young musicians expressing themselves through the music they play. And the sound they create together has an inspiring infectiousness that channels their youth and can’t help but make you smile.
The Sistema Europe Youth Orchestra play here in our Queen Elizabeth Hall at 5pm on Sunday 26 August.
In addition to their concert performance Sistema will be with us throughout Sunday 26 August at Southbank Centre as part of our Great Big Summer Weekend. They’ll be offering chances to try, and play, instruments as part of a day of free workshops and interactive sessions, starting at midday.